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SHENYANG: This photo shows a poster for the new iPhone 15 at an Apple store in Shenyang, in China’s northeastern Liaoning province. – AFP
SHENYANG: This photo shows a poster for the new iPhone 15 at an Apple store in Shenyang, in China’s northeastern Liaoning province. – AFP

Apple drops WhatsApp and Threads from China App Store on govt order

Cyberspace Administration of China orders removal of apps

BEIJING: Apple has removed Meta’s WhatsApp and Threads from its App Store in China on orders from the country’s internet regulator, US media reported Friday. Mainland China has some of the world’s most extensive internet censorship, with web users unable to access everything from Google to many foreign apps without workarounds such as a virtual private network (VPN). “We are obligated to follow the laws in the countries where we operate, even when we disagree,” Apple said in a statement, according to Bloomberg.

“The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) ordered the removal of these apps from the China storefront based on their national security concerns,” it added, referring to China’s internet regulator. “These apps remain available for download on all other storefronts where they appear.” A Meta spokesperson referred AFP to Apple, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The App Store did not display any search results for WhatsApp or Threads when tested by AFP in China. Encrypted messaging apps Telegram and Signal were also not available, with Bloomberg reporting, citing consultants, that they had been removed. AFP has reached out to Signal and Telegram for comment. The CAC and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology—another top Chinese regulatory body—did not immediately respond.

China is a key market for Apple, which last year topped the country’s smartphone market for the first time. But thorny issues of censorship and national security have long hounded the US tech giant’s operations in China, as well as Beijing and Washington’s fierce battle for technological supremacy. In January, China said it had cracked Apple’s encrypted AirDrop file transfer service, which had once given protesters a vital channel for sharing information during the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

State-backed experts said they had devised a way to reveal an iPhone’s encrypted device log, allowing them to then identify an AirDrop user’s phone number and email accounts. Many platforms that are popular in much of the world—including Google, Facebook, X, WhatsApp and TikTok—are blocked in mainland China. But savvy Chinese iPhone users have still been able to download banned apps and use them through a VPN to dodge restrictions.

Removing WhatsApp and Threads from the Chinese App Store will greatly complicate the ability of new iPhone users to access the apps. Their removal came a day before a scheduled vote in the US House of Representatives on a bill that includes provisions to force TikTok to sever all links with its Chinese parent ByteDance over national security concerns. Beijing has frequently lashed out against US restrictions on Chinese tech, claiming they are a pretext to contain the country’s economic rise. — AFP

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