Following a government decision citing national security concerns, Apple pulled the end-to-end encrypted messaging software WhatsApp, owned by Meta, from its software Store in China, according to Reuters news agency on Friday.

For the same reason, Meta’s more recent text-based social networking software, Threads, which resembles Twitter, has also been removed from the software Store, the company stated.

Apple provided a statement to the news agency stating that “the Cyberspace Administration of China ordered the removal of these apps from the China storefront based on their national security concerns.”

TechCrunch was informed by Meta that its two apps are no longer available in China on the Apple App Store, but Meta opted not to share any other information regarding the removals. A representative for Meta said us, “We refer you to Apple for comment.”

Additionally, we asked Apple about the removals, but as of the time of publication, the iPhone manufacturer has not replied.

Telegram and Signal, two more chat applications, have reportedly also been taken down from Apple’s App Store in China, according to Reuters. For this section of its analysis, it references data from app tracking companies App Magic and Qimai.

These two additional removals have not been confirmed by Apple. However, Signal and Telegram are listed as having “disappeared” from Apple’s mainland China App Store on the App Censorship website, which keeps track of App Store removals.

Regarding the status of its iOS app, we contacted Telegram, but as of the time of publication, it has not replied.

When questioned about the Reuters story, Meredith Whittaker, president of Signal, told TechCrunch that Signal was already restricted in China by the nation’s Outstanding Firewall.

“Signal registrations and messages are apparently blocked, even though the app may have been available for download in the past,” the spokesperson stated, implying that it doesn’t really matter if the app is removed from the App Store because users accessing it from China wouldn’t be able to register or send messages.

However, it appears that signal has not always been suppressed in this manner. Rita Liao of TechCrunch noted back in 2021 that Signal functioned flawlessly in China, even without the need for a VPN. However, it is likely that since then, state censors have tightened their restrictions on the end-to-end encrypted messaging service.

Previous eliminations

Apple has previously disabled apps at the request of China’s internet censorship body. Several generative AI programs were stolen last summer.

just before Chinese laws aimed at generative AI were set to go into force, off Apple’s China App Store.

Shortly after being accepted, Jack Dorsey’s supported Damus, another competitor to Twitter, was removed from Apple’s China App Store last year.

A few years ago, not long after its worldwide launch, Apple removed the audio social networking software Clubhouse from its Chinese store. To just a few other examples, Apple has recently banned popular censorship circumvention tools (and earlier VPN apps), RSS apps, podcast apps, and even a Quran app.

It’s unclear why Threads and WhatsApp are currently being removed from Apple’s Chinese App Store.

One is an end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) chat software, and the other is a social media platform akin to microblogging.

(While Signal supports industry-standard E2EE across all areas of its software, Telegram only offers (non-default) proprietary E2EE for so-called “secret chats.”) Telegram includes both private messaging and one-to-many broadcast style features.

In early July of last year, Threads went live. China’s Great Firewall has restricted the program, so anyone wishing to download it needs to utilize a VPN to get over the restrictions. Though it appears that many did, because last summer, Threads swiftly made it into the top 5 on Apple’s China App Store.

China’s state censors would be more likely to notice a well-known app, which might lead them to take further measures to restrict usage, such requiring Apple to take down the applications from its marketplace.

Meanwhile, according to Apple Censorship, other well-known apps that Meta owns, such Facebook and Instagram, are still accessible on Apple’s China App Store. However, as TC’s Liao noted in a 2021 post regarding the growing popularity of Telegram and Signal, “China’s censorship decisions can be arbitrary and inconsistent.”

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