Apple Ordered to Pull WhatsApp, Threads from App Store in China

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Key Takeaways

  • Apple said China ordered it to pull WhatsApp and Threads from the local App Store.
  • The country cited national security concerns.
  • The move comes as TikTok faces a possible US ban.

Apple said it pulled WhatsApp and Threads from its App Store in China after that country’s government ordered their removal.

The Cyberspace Administration of China demanded the withdrawals over “national security concerns,” Apple said in a statement. The company added that it was “obligated to follow” these orders even when it disagreed.

Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger remained available, Reuters reported. However, WhatsApp rivals Signal and Telegram also left the App Store in China. We’ve asked Apple for comment on those departures and will let you know if the firm can provide more details.

It’s not clear what prompted China to order the removals of WhatsApp and Threads. They may be linked to an August 2023 rule requiring that all apps register with the government. Meta has referred reporters to Apple for comment.

The move came as U.S. legislators weighed a potential ban on TikTok tied to a foreign aid package bill in the House. American politicians have been concerned for years that TikTok parent ByteDance might be compelled to hand over user data to China, or to manipulate recommendations.

There’s no certainty the bill will become law, or that China is banning WhatsApp and Threads in retaliation. Neither app is widely used in China, where “super apps” like WeChat dominate. However, it’s a blow to both Apple and Meta.

Apple has previously made clear that it prefers to make apps available, but has also honored China’s legal requests. The company has pulled VPN apps and The New York Times‘ client in the past, for instance. Even so, removing WhatsApp and Threads may sour Chinese customers on the iPhone if they rely on those apps.

Meta, meanwhile, may lose a large potential market for two of its services. While the company isn’t heavily dependent on China, it won’t have a chance to make inroads and provide meaningful alternatives to WeChat.