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Apple removes WhatsApp, Threads from App Store in China after demand by Beijing over security concerns

Apple on Friday removed WhatsApp and Threads from China’s App Store following orders from the Chinese government, citing national security concerns, raising new concerns about censorship by China’s Communist regime.

Two other popular foreign messaging apps, Telegram and Signal, were also removed from app stores on Friday, according to app tracking companies Qimai and AppMagic.

The removal of the four apps signals growing intolerance toward at least some foreign online messaging services that are outside the control of China’s central government. It also signals Apple’s leeway in China, the tech giant’s most important market outside the United States.

“The Cyberspace Administration of China has ordered the removal of these apps from Chinese store shelves based on national security concerns,” Apple said in an emailed statement.

“We are obligated to abide by the laws of the countries in which we operate, even if we disagree,” it said in a statement.

Apple has complied with the Chinese government’s request to remove the messaging app from the App Store. Apple CEO Tim Cook is photographed holding an iPhone 14 in Cupertino, California in 2022. Getty Images

The Chinese government’s regulatory arm, the China Cyberspace Administration, has asked Apple to remove the apps, saying they contain political content that contains negative sentiments toward President Xi Jinping.

Both WhatsApp and Threads are owned by Facebook’s parent company Meta Platforms Inc.

Both Facebook and another meta property, Instagram, are banned in China.

“We will refer the matter to Apple for comment,” a Meta spokesperson told The Post.

The newspaper has contacted the Chinese government for comment.

China’s move comes as US lawmakers are considering banning TikTok, the hugely popular social media app owned by Beijing-based Chinese tech conglomerate ByteDance.

Telegram, the popular encrypted messaging app, is one of the apps that Apple has reportedly agreed to remove from the China-based App Store. Prima91 – Stock.adobe.com

Signal, Telegram, and WhatsApp all offer free messaging services with end-to-end encryption technology. This means that your communications are strictly private and cannot be accessed by anyone other than those participating in the chat.

Users based in China are still using virtual private networks to bypass the Great Firewall, the heavy-handed censorship and regulatory framework imposed by the Chinese government on internet use in the country. Can be accessed.

The “Twitter killer” app Threads, owned by Facebook’s parent company Meta, is also banned in China. Reuters

Signal provides instant messaging, voice and video calling technology used by an estimated 40 million people worldwide. It is also banned in China.

None of the four apps from the Apple Store are widely used in China, where Tencent’s WeChat is by far the dominant service.

The four apps remain available in Hong Kong and Macau, two special administrative regions of China.

Some experts in China’s tech industry say the government’s orders on WhatsApp and Threads may be related to new rules last August that require all apps available in China to be registered with the government. Yes, or risk being removed.

The deadline for companies to complete their registration was the end of March, and the regulations came into effect on April 1.

China also blocks other popular sites and apps, including Google, Google’s YouTube, Pinterest, X (formerly Twitter), Tumblr, Blogger, and Snapchat.

WhatsApp is also owned by Meta Platforms Inc and has been officially banned by the Chinese government. Reuters

Despite the ban, Chinese internet users are using VPNs to circumvent the restrictions.

Instagram, X, Facebook, YouTube, and WhatsApp have been downloaded more than 170 million times from Apple’s App Store combined over the past decade, according to data cited by the Wall Street Journal.

Protesters and demonstrators in China have used social media to organize rallies to denounce the government’s strict coronavirus lockdown measures during the pandemic.

In response, Apple restricted iPhone users in China from sharing files using the encrypted AirDrop feature. The AirDrop feature allows devices to share content with each other when they are nearby.

Apple is one of the few American technology companies to have established a significant base of operations in mainland China.

However, the company has been criticized in the United States for complying with Chinese government censorship orders.

In 2021, the New York Times reported that Apple had agreed to store the personal data of Chinese customers in a database controlled by the state-owned company on computer servers.

Apple has been ordered to remove encrypted messaging app Signal from the App Store. Prima91 – Stock.adobe.com

Apple is highly dependent on China, as many of its suppliers that make parts for its top-selling devices such as the iPhone, iPad and AirPods are based there.

But in recent years, Apple has been moving parts of its supply chain to other Asian countries, including Vietnam and India.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said earlier this week that the company is considering establishing a manufacturing site in Indonesia.

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