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China forces Apple to block, remove Meta’s WhatsApp & Threads from Chinese App Store

China is not happy with Mark Zuckerberg-led Meta and Apple. Perhaps that is why Beijing has forced Apple to remove Meta’s WhatsApp, Instagram, and threads from Chinese app stores.

Earlier on Friday, Apple revealed that it was forced to comply with orders from China’s internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, to remove Meta’s apps from its online store due to alleged national security concerns.

In response to the removal, Apple stated that it must adhere to local laws in its operating countries, even if it disagrees with them. Meta, the parent company of WhatsApp and Threads, still needs to provide a statement.

WhatsApp boasts over 2 billion active users globally every month. At the same time, Threads, a platform similar to Twitter, is an offshoot of Instagram and was among the top four most downloaded services in App Stores worldwide in December.

When precisely Apple removed WhatsApp and Threads from the App Store in China remains to be determined, but as of Friday, they were no longer available, reports claim on Chinese social media. However, other meta-communication platforms such as Messenger, Facebook, and Instagram were still accessible.

This move closes a loophole that previously allowed Chinese users to access specific Western social media platforms through domestic app stores.

Although users can still download apps from other countries’ App Stores and use them via virtual private networks, the delisting signifies a stricter enforcement of regulations by Apple. Moreover, anyone found to be using a VPN to access banned platforms and websites in China will face major consequences, as per Chinese law.

The removal of these apps coincides with a deadline set by China’s internet regulator and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology for apps operating in China to register formally with the government.

This requirement forces developers to establish a local presence and host their app’s back-end data and user data in China.

As the US Congress gears up for a vote on a bill targeting ByteDance-owned app TikTok, tensions between US and Chinese tech companies continue to escalate. Apple’s relationship with China has faced challenges, including declining smartphone sales and increased competition from Huawei.

Despite these challenges, Apple remains committed to the Chinese market, as evidenced by CEO Tim Cook’s recent visits and the opening of Apple’s largest Asian store in Shanghai. Cook has also initiated efforts to diversify Apple’s supply chain, exploring production expansion in India, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

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