The Great Firewall: China Orders Apple To Remove WhatsApp, Threads From App Store

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by Tyler Durden
Friday, Apr 19, 2024 - 11:45 AM

The Cyberspace Administration of China asked Apple on Friday to remove Meta Platforms' WhatsApp and Threads from its App Store in China due to national security concerns. Signal and Telegram—two foreign messaging apps—were also removed from the Chinese App Store. The removal of the four apps comes as elites in Washington, DC, attempt to ban Chinese app TikTok from US phones. 

"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," Apple said in a statement, as quoted by Bloomberg

Apple continued, "These apps remain available for download on all other storefronts where they appear."

These four messaging apps allow users to bypass China's Great Firewall through virtual private networks. Beijing finds this troubling as citizens could be subjected to disinformation and misinformation content (created by foreign adversaries) that sparks social unrest or discontent with the communist regime. 

Bloomberg said the orders to nuke the four apps follow a prior "cleanup program Chinese regulators initiated in 2023 that was expected to remove many defunct or unregistered apps from domestic iOS and Android stores, including local ones. In August, China asked all mobile app developers to register with the government by the end of March, or cease operating." 

Rich Bishop, co-founder and chief executive officer of AppInChina, expressed concern that Chinese consumers will now be limited to domestic apps, with only a handful of international ones. He warned that this move by Beijing could further isolate Chinese citizens from the rest of the world.

The removals come at a time when Apple is navigating a delicate balance between complying with China's censorship-industrial complex and maintaining iPhone market share in the world's largest handset market. 

Last year, Apple was China's top smartphone maker, commanding over 17% of the market. However, Huawei is now challenging the US brand with new phone lineups, potentially shifting the dynamics. 

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, US lawmakers are actively pursuing a bill that would force Beijing-based ByteDance to divest TikTok or face a nationwide ban from app stores. This move underscores the ongoing tech war between the US and China. 

Speaker Mike Johnson plans to include the TikTok divestiture legislation in an aid package for Ukraine and Israel that can be voted on as early as Saturday.