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Apple Removes WhatsApp, Threads from China Store on Beijing's Command

Meta

Apple said on Friday that it had to take down Meta Platforms' WhatsApp and Threads from its App Store in China because the Chinese government told them to, citing national security concerns. App tracking firms Qimai and AppMagic noted that two other foreign messaging apps, Telegram and Signal, were also removed from the store on the same day. This action indicates that China's government is becoming less tolerant of foreign messaging services it cannot control, and it shows that Apple has limited freedom in China.


Despite the removals, other Meta apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger were still available for download in China, Other well-known Western apps like YouTube and X were also still accessible. It wasn't immediately obvious why Chinese authorities might see WhatsApp or Threads as security threats. Apple stated in an email that the Cyberspace Administration of China had ordered these apps to be removed from the Chinese App Store due to national security worries.


The statement said, "We must follow the laws of the countries we work in, even if we don't agree with them." Meta chose not to comment and directed questions to Apple. Apple did not answer questions about Signal and Telegram. Representatives for both companies did not immediately respond to requests for comments. The Cyberspace Administration of China also did not reply quickly to a request for comment.


None of the four apps—WhatsApp, Threads, Signal, and Telegram—are very popular in China, where Tencent's WeChat is the main app people use. In China, these and many other foreign apps are usually blocked by the "Great Firewall," which is the country's big system of online censorship. People in China can only use these apps with a virtual private network (VPN) or similar tools. However, these four apps are still available in Hong Kong and Macau, which are special areas of China.


Some experts think the Chinese government's recent order to remove WhatsApp and Threads might be linked to a new rule from last August. This rule says that all apps in China must register with the government or they might be taken down. The deadline for apps to register was the end of March, and these rules started being enforced on April 1.


Apple has removed apps from its store in China before. For example, in 2017, they took down The New York Times app because it didn't follow local laws, during a time when there was increasing control over news in China. That app is still not available in Apple's China App Store. Last year, Apple also removed some apps similar to ChatGPT because Beijing was making new rules about AI services.


The news about removing WhatsApp and Threads was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.


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