Apple Removes WhatsApp, Threads from its China app store on Beijing Order

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Apple has announced the removal of Meta’s WhatsApp and Threads from its China app store. This action follows an order from China’s internet regulator which cited security risks posed by these services.

The removal is part of a broader cleanup program initiated by Chinese regulators in 2023, aimed at eliminating defunct or unregistered apps from domestic iOS and Android stores. This move against American tech services coincides with steps taken by the US government towards banning TikTok, the popular video app from Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd.

Earlier, US politicians have raised national security concerns in their push to either sell TikTok to a non-Chinese owner or impose a ban on the US market.

In response to the removal, Apple stated, “We are obligated to follow the laws in the countries where we operate, even when we disagree. The Cyberspace Administration of China ordered the removal of these apps from the China storefront based on their national security concerns. These apps remain available for download on all other storefronts where they appear.”

Foreign social media platforms like WhatsApp were already largely inaccessible from China without tools to circumvent Beijing’s Great Firewall. The removal of these apps will further restrict users within the country from viewing content on these international platforms.

In August, China requested all mobile app developers to register with the government by the end of March, a move portrayed as a bid to counter telephone scams and fraud.

China is a crucial market for Apple, being its largest consumer market outside the US and its primary production base. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, visited the country earlier this year, emphasizing its importance to the business. Apple has consistently stated that it needs to follow local laws to operate its app store effectively in different countries.

Apple has deleted apps from its China app store before. In 2017, Apple removed The New York Times news app, saying it violated local regulations. Last year, Apple removed a number of ChatGPT-like apps when Beijing was working on local regulations on generative artificial intelligence (AI) services.

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