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Apple removes WhatsApp, Threads and other apps in China over ‘security concerns’

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Amidst the tight control over internet services in China, Apple has removed several popular messaging apps from its App Store in the country on orders from the government citing national security concerns.

The apps removed include Meta’s encrypted messaging service WhatsApp and its new Twitter-like app Threads, as well as the private messaging apps Signal and Telegram, according to app analytics firms.

We are obligated to follow the laws in the countries where we operate, even when we disagree,” an Apple spokesperson said, confirming the removals were carried out after an order from China’s cyberspace regulator.

The tech giant did not provide details on the specific security issues raised about the apps. Other Meta-owned services like Facebook, Instagram and Messenger remain available on the App Store in China for now.

While the four removed apps are not widely used in China due to the country’s Great Firewall blocking many foreign services, they could previously be accessed through virtual private networks (VPNs) that bypass internet censors.

The takedowns represent the latest instance of tightening online restrictions in China, where authorities maintain a firm grip over internet content and services. Experts suggest the removals may be linked to a new regulation requiring all mobile apps to register with the government by March 31st.

It signals less leeway for Apple in China,” said one analyst, noting the potential impacts on businesses and individuals in the country trying to communicate internationally.

Read also: Starlink ordered to shut down in Zimbabwe amid regulatory crackdown

Apple has repeatedly compromised on free speech and privacy values to maintain access to the lucrative Chinese market. It has previously taken down apps like The New York Times and various VPN services at Beijing’s behest.

The removal of WhatsApp is particularly significant given its industry-leading end-to-end encryption that keeps messages secure even from Meta itself. Signal also offers advanced encryption and has championed online privacy.

While WeChat remains China’s major messaging app, the takedowns further shrink the space for internet freedom in the country. It shows Beijing’s unwillingness to allow circumvention tools and foreign platforms that could challenge its control over the digital sphere.

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When I'm not reading about tech, I'm writing about it, or thinking about the next weird food combinations to try. I do all these with my headphones plugged in, and a sticky note on my computer with the words: "The galaxy needs saving, Star Lord."
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