Apr 19, 2024 - Technology

Apple removes WhatsApp and Threads from App Store under orders from China

Illustration of a small Meta logo under a magnifying glass surrounded by a larger, out of focus version

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Apple has pulled WhatsApp and Threads, two Meta-owned apps, from its app store in China under orders from Beijing's top tech regulator, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Why it matters: The move signals a new intensity in the U.S.'s conflict with China over access to key technologies and information, which has already resulted in a range of tariffs and exports controls on products such as computer chips and telecoms equipment.

The big picture: China has been tightening its "Great Firewall" to censor the internet since 2000, and many major American tech and media companies no longer operate in the country.

  • Apple also removed Signal and Telegram from the app store in China.

The intrigue: China's move comes as the U.S. Congress moved closer to a Saturday vote on a package of laws that includes a measure forcing Chinese-owned Bytedance to sell TikTok's U.S. operations.

Threat level: Apple has more at stake than Meta here.

  • China is a the main manufacturing hub for the iPhone, and Apple generated $68 billion in sales in China in 2023. Tim Cook visited China in March to shore up relationships.
  • WhatsApp had been downloaded around 15 million times from the App Store in China, and Threads just 470,000 times, according to Appfigures, New York Times reported.

What they're saying: "We are obligated to follow the laws in the countries where we operate, even when we disagree," an Apple spokesperson told Wall Street Journal.

The bottom line: Residents of China seeking unfiltered news, who can sometimes access it using foreign messaging apps through VPNs, now have a lot fewer choices.

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