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Apple complies with Beijing’s request, removes WhatsApp and Threads from China App Store

The recent Chinese directions to remove apps from the app store is part of a larger strategy aimed at regulating online content

On Friday, Apple complied with the Chinese government order by removing Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp and Threads from its App Store in China.This decision came after a request from the country’s internet regulator, which cited concerns about potential security risks posed by these services.

The recent Chinese directions to remove apps from the app store is part of a larger strategy aimed at regulating online content. This effort compels both domestic and foreign companies to limit access to information that the Chinese government considers politically sensitive.

However, Chinese authorities did not specify immediately how WhatsApp or Threads could have raised security concerns. Other Meta apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger were still accessible. Additionally other popular apps from Western companies, including YouTube and X, remained available for download.The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the removal of WhatsApp and Threads from the China App Store.

Apple gave out a statement saying, “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.”

Meta refrained from commenting and referred to Apple’s statement.

China holds significant importance for the iPhone, serving as its largest consumer market outside the US and a crucial production hub. During a visit earlier this year, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook underscored the country’s significance to Apple’s operations. The company has consistently highlighted the necessity of adhering to local laws to effectively manage its app store in various nations.

Apple has taken action to remove apps from its China app store.

In 2017, The New York Times news app was removed due to alleged violations of local regulations, coinciding with increased news censorship in the country. As a result, the app remains unavailable on Apple’s China App Store.

Accessing foreign social media platforms like WhatsApp has long been a challenge in China without tools like virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass Beijing’s Great Firewall. Experts in China’s tech industry suggest that the recent government directive against WhatsApp and Threads could be associated with a new regulation that was introduced in August last year.

App Store

This rule mandates that all apps accessible in China must register with the government by the end of march or they face the possibility of being taken down.With the recent removal of these apps, users within China will find it even more challenging to engage with content on these international platforms.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced plans to conduct oversight on app registrations from April to June, with a focus on addressing unregistered apps. Developers must also enhance mechanisms for managing “illegal information.”

This initiative reflects Beijing’s ongoing efforts to reinforce cyberspace regulations, compelling both domestic and foreign entities to restrict politically sensitive content. Notably, these measures extend beyond apps to include websites and expansive language AI models, indicating a broader scope of content control.

As American tech services face action in China, the US government is progressing towards potentially banning TikTok, the popular video app owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd.Politicians in the US have raised national security concerns and are urging ByteDance to sell TikTok to a non-Chinese owner or risk being banned in the US market. 

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