Apple App Store Removes WhatsApp Amid Privacy Concerns

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On Friday, the Apple Store removed Telegram, Signal, and two other foreign messaging applications, indicating a tightening stance by China’s central government toward certain foreign online messaging platforms beyond its jurisdiction.

This action also implies reduced flexibility for Apple within China. However, Meta-owned apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger remained accessible for download.

Despite the removal, WhatsApp’s and Threads’ potential security concerns for Chinese authorities weren’t immediately evident. Apple stated that the Cyberspace Administration of China ordered their removal due to national security apprehensions, underscoring their obligation to comply with local laws.

Meta chose not to comment and directed inquiries to Apple, which didn’t respond to queries regarding Signal and Telegram. Representatives from both companies didn’t provide immediate responses either. Similarly, the Cyberspace Administration of China remained silent on the matter.

Despite their removal, these four apps aren’t widely used in China, where WeChat, operated by Tencent, dominates the messaging service landscape. Typically, foreign apps, including these, are blocked within China by the “Great Firewall” and require virtual private networks or proxies for access. Nevertheless, they remain accessible in Hong Kong and Macau, China’s special administrative regions.

Some industry experts speculate that the directive against WhatsApp and Threads may stem from a new regulation mandating all apps operating in China to register with the government or face removal. The deadline for compliance was in March, with regulations taking effect in April.

This incident mirrors past instances where Apple removed The New York Times app in 2017 due to local regulation violations, coinciding with escalating news censorship in China. The app remains unavailable on Apple’s China App Store. Additionally, last year, Apple removed ChatGPT-like apps during Beijing’s formulation of local regulations concerning generative AI services.

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