Apple Withdraws WhatsApp and Threads from App Store in China

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Ross Jukes
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Last updated: May 9, 2024
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Apple has recently withdrawn the Meta-owned applications WhatsApp and Threads from its App Store in China. This action follows instructions from Chinese government authorities, who claimed national security concerns were the cause of the removal. 

Apple confirmed the removal in an official statement, explaining, “The Cyberspace Administration of China ordered the removal of these apps from the China storefront based on their national security concerns,” in an email statement to Reuters

WhatsApp and Threads removal from the App Store

The reasons behind the security concerns cited by Chinese authorities for removing WhatsApp and Threads from the app store were not immediately disclosed. Reuters reports that experts in the field suggest the move may have something to do with a rule that was put in place last August that says all apps in China need to register with the government. The deadline for this registration was at the end of March, with the new rules taking effect on April 1.

The majority of people in China use apps like WeChat, so WhatsApp and Threads are not extremely popular there. Nonetheless, their removal represents a significant setback for both Apple and Meta in the Chinese market. 

Interestingly, major Meta apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger are still available for download from the App Store, as are several other popular Western apps like YouTube and X.

With WhatsApp and Threads now removed from the App Store, downloading these apps in China has become more difficult. Even with a VPN, accessing these apps is no longer straightforward, limiting options for users within the country.

More messaging apps were removed from Apple’s China App Store

cellphone screen showing the app store and an image of a trash can full of messaging application logos in the middle of the cellphone screen, solid red background

According to Reuters, Apple has taken down two more messaging apps in China. These are Signal and Telegram. This information comes from app tracking firms Qimai and AppMagic, although Apple has not officially confirmed these removals. According to AppleCensorship, a website monitoring App Store changes, both Signal and Telegram have “disappeared” from Apple’s mainland China App Store.

When asked about the story, Meredith Whittaker, president of Signal, told TechCrunch that the Great Firewall of China had blocked Signal. “While Signal may have been available to download in the past, Signal registrations and messages are apparently blocked,” she said. Whittaker said that the fact that the app isn’t in the App Store doesn’t really matter because people in China can’t register for the service or use it properly.

Apple’s History of App Removals in China

In China, Apple has repeatedly shut down apps from its App Store, following the instructions of the country’s internet authorities.  last summer, when Apple removed several generative AI apps right before new rules in China went into effect that targeted these technologies. This proactive method shows that Apple is always trying to follow local laws and regulations.

In another notable instance from 2017, Apple took down The New York Times news app claiming it violated local regulations. This happened at the same time that China’s news filtering got stricter, which is why the app is still not available in Apple’s China App Store. These kinds of events show how hard it is for foreign companies to do business in China.

More recently, the trend continued when Jack Dorsey’s backed Twitter alternative Damus was taken down. The app was taken down from the App Store not long after it was approved last year. Higher-profile apps usually get more attention from China’s state censors, which can lead to extra steps like taking them off the App Store to stop what they see as inappropriate content.

AppleCensorship says that even though these apps were taken down, other popular Meta apps like Facebook and Instagram can still be downloaded from Apple’s China App Store. However, the application of censorship in China can be arbitrary and inconsistent, reflecting the unpredictable nature of regulatory enforcement in the region.

Summary

Apple has withdrawn WhatsApp and Threads from its App Store in China, following directives from Chinese authorities over national security concerns. This step is part of China’s stringent app regulations which also saw the removal of other messaging apps like Signal and Telegram. While popular Meta apps remain available, the selective removals highlight the challenges and inconsistencies of navigating app regulations in China. These actions underscore the ongoing tension between global tech companies and Chinese regulatory requirements, impacting both the availability of apps and the broader business landscape in the region.

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Ross Jukes
Ross Jukes
Ross Jukes is an accomplished American copywriter with a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature and a minor in Creative Writing. Based in the United States, Ross is a language expert, fluent in English and specializes in creating compelling and engaging content. With years of experience in the industry, he has honed his skills in various forms of writing, including advertising, marketing, and web content. Ross's creativity and keen eye for detail have made him a valuable asset in the field of copywriting, where he continues to excel and innovate.

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