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Apple removes WhatsApp and Threads from App Store in China

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Apple announced on Friday that it had taken down Meta platforms’ WhatsApp and Thread apps following an order from the Chinese government citing national security concerns. This move, affecting Meta’s popular communication platform, raises questions about the tech giant’s operations in the country.

While other Meta apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger remain accessible, removing WhatsApp and Threads underscores China’s stringent stance on digital platforms. Apple’s compliance with Chinese regulations emphasised its obligation to adhere to local laws despite disagreements.

First reported by WSJ, the reasons behind China’s national security concerns regarding WhatsApp and Threads were not immediately disclosed. However, industry experts speculate that this action could be linked to China’s recent regulations requiring all apps operating in the country to register with the government or face removal, with a deadline set in March.

“The Cyberspace Administration of China ordered the removal of these apps from the China storefront based on their national security concerns,” an Apple spokesperson told Reuters. “We are obligated to follow the laws in the countries where we operate, even when we disagree.”

Apple removed many apps from its official app store before to comply with the CCP.

Apple’s history of complying with Chinese regulations includes past app removals, such as The New York Times news app in 2017 and ChatGPT-like apps in response to local regulations on generative AI last year.

These actions reflect the complexities tech companies operating in China’s tightly controlled digital landscape face.

As per Apple, the impact of WhatsApp and Threads’ removal on Chinese users can be mitigated through alternative access via Apple’s App Stores in other countries for those with iCloud accounts outside China. This means that the apps are only geo-locked in China, and people can visit other countries to access them.

This move by China comes when the United States is likely to bring a law banning TikTok. This bill has the backing of President Biden and will be sent to the Senate on Saturday.

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Kumar Hemant

Deputy Editor at Candid.Technology. Hemant writes at the intersection of tech and culture and has a keen interest in science, social issues and international relations. You can contact him here: kumarhemant@pm.me

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