Apple Removes WhatsApp and Threads From China App Store

Apple has removed WhatsApp and Threads from its app store in China, complying with orders from the nation’s internet watchdog, which cited national security concerns.

“We are obligated to follow the laws in the countries where we operate, even when we disagree,” an Apple spokesperson said on Friday.

“The Cyberspace Administration of China ordered the removal of these apps from the China storefront based on national security concerns. These apps remain available for download on all other storefronts where they appear.”

The two apps, both owned by Meta, were not commonly used in China as they were already blocked. Access within the nation was possible only through the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) that encrypt online traffic and conceal users’ online identities.

Apple’s decision to remove these apps marks a further divide in the tech landscapes within and outside of China, according to Duncan Clark, chairman of BDA China, a Beijing-based investment advisory.

“It will cause inconvenience to consumers and businesses in China who deal with family, friends, or customers overseas. Even if they use VPNs to access their existing WhatsApp apps, these will become obsolete over time and require updates,” he explained.

Despite the removals, other major Western social media platforms such as X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger remain accessible through Apple’s app store in China.

Apple’s announcement comes amid a significant downturn in iPhone sales in China, the world’s second-largest market. The company witnessed a remarkable 10% drop in smartphone sales in the first quarter, as reported by the market research firm IDC.

Apple’s momentum in China has declined due to nationalistic sentiments, economic challenges, and stiff competition over recent months.

The rise of Huawei and other local brands like Xiaomi and OPPO/OnePlus is expected to continue, with IDC noting a shift in Chinese consumer preferences from Apple to domestic manufacturers.

In addition to being a crucial manufacturing hub, China remains a vital market for Apple, ranking just behind the United States. The company is actively offering discounts to stimulate sales within the country.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook recently visited Shanghai to inaugurate the world’s second-largest Apple store.