Apple pulls WhatsApp, Threads from China App Store following state order


Apple app store iOS
Image Credits: TechCrunch

Apple has removed the Meta-owned end-to-end encrypted messaging app WhatsApp from its App Store in China following a government order citing national security concerns, the news agency Reuters reported Friday.

Meta’s newer, Twitter-esque text-based social networking app, Threads, has also been pulled from the App Store for the same reason, it said.

“The Cyberspace Administration of China ordered the removal of these apps from the China storefront based on their national security concerns,” Apple said in a statement sent to the news agency.

Meta confirmed to TechCrunch that its two apps are no longer available on Apple’s App Store in China but declined to provide any more details about the takedowns. “We refer you to Apple for comment,” a Meta spokesperson told us.

We also contacted Apple with questions about the removals but at press time the iPhone maker had not responded.

According to Reuters, two other messaging apps have also been removed from Apple’s App Store in China — namely Signal and Telegram. It cites data from app tracking firms Qimai and AppMagic for this element of its report.

Apple has not confirmed these two additional removals. But the AppleCensorship site, which tracks App Store removals, records both Signal and Telegram as “disappeared” from Apple’s mainland China App Store.

We reached out to Telegram regarding the status of its iOS App but at press time it had not responded.

Asked about Reuters’ report, Signal’s president Meredith Whittaker told TechCrunch that Signal was already blocked in China by the country’s Great Firewall.

“While Signal may have been available to download in the past, Signal registrations and messages are apparently blocked,” she said, suggesting it makes little difference if its app no longer appears on the App Store since users accessing the app from China would be unable to register or send messages.

Signal does not always seem to have been blocked in this way, though. Back in 2021, TechCrunch’s Rita Liao reported that Signal worked perfectly in China, including without using a VPN. But, presumably, state censors have clamped down further on the end-to-end encrypted messaging app since then.

Earlier removals

It’s not the first time Apple has removed apps at the direction of China’s internet regulator. Last summer multiple generative AI apps were taken off Apple’s China App Store shortly before Chinese regulations targeted at generative AI were due to take effect.

Last year another Twitter alternative, Jack Dorsey-backed Damus, was also pulled from Apple’s China App Store shortly after it had been approved.

A few years ago the audio social networking app Clubhouse was also pulled from Apple’s store in China shortly after its global release. In recent years Apple has also removed popular censorship circumvention tools (and previously VPN apps); RSS apps; podcast apps; and even a Quran app, to name a few other examples.

Why WhatsApp and Threads have been targeted for removal from Apple’s Chinese App Store now isn’t clear.

One is an end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) messaging app, the other is a microblogging-style social media app. (Telegram has both private messaging and one-to-many broadcast style features, with [non-default] proprietary E2EE only available for so-called “secret chats”; Signal offers industry gold-standard E2EE across all aspects of its app.)

Threads launched in early July last year. The app itself has been blocked by China’s Great Firewall, meaning users in China wanting to download it have to use a VPN to circumvent the censorship. Quite a number evidently managed to do so, as Threads quickly landed in the top 5 on Apple’s China App Store last summer.

A popular app would be more likely to catch more attention from China’s state censors, potentially encouraging them to take additional action to clamp down on usage — such as ordering Apple to remove the software from its store.

At the same time, other popular, Meta-owned apps, Facebook and Instagram, are still available on Apple’s China App Store, per AppleCensorship. But as TC’s Liao pointed out, in a 2021 post about rising usage of Signal and Telegram, “China’s censorship decisions can be arbitrary and inconsistent.”

Generative AI services pulled from Apple App Store in China ahead of new regulations

Damus pulled from Apple’s App Store in China after two days

More TechCrunch

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

A new self-driving truck — manufactured by Volvo and loaded with autonomous vehicle tech developed by Aurora Innovation — could be on public highways as early as this summer.  The…

Aurora and Volvo unveil self-driving truck designed for a driverless future

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €284M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft wants to make Windows an AI operating system, launches Copilot+ PCs

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

1 day ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions