Apple pulls WhatsApp from iPhone in China on government orders — Meta's Threads also booted over 'national security concerns'

WhatsApp on iPhone 15 Pro Max
(Image credit: Future)

Apple says that it has removed WhatsApp and Meta's Threads app at the behest of the Chinese government over "national security concerns." 

According to Reuters, Friday, Apple issued a statement reading "The Cyberspace Administration of China ordered the removal of these apps from the China storefront based on their national security concerns... We are obligated to follow the laws in the countries where we operate, even when we disagree." 

According to the report, both apps have been removed from Apple's App Store, however other popular apps including Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, YouTube, and X remain available. 

Shock WhatsApp removal

While WhatsApp is an extremely popular app worldwide, its relevance in China is less prominent. Statista figures published in January, as of November 2023 the most popular messaging app in the country by some margin was WeChat, which has over a billion users, followed by QQ and Momo. 

As per the report, both apps remain available for download elsewhere in the world, and some users based in China "are able to download the apps from Apple's App Stores in other countries if they have an iCloud account there."

Experts cited by Reuters indicate "the government order on WhatsApp and Threads could be related to a new rule last August that requires all apps available in China to register with the government or risk being removed," measures that came into effect on April 1. 

In August Apple pulled ChatGPT-like apps from the iPhone in China,  owing to new laws that state apps must promote healthy content and "adhere to core socialist values."

As Apple heads towards WWDC 2024 and the unveiling of iOS 18, reports indicate that Apple AI in China could be powered by a partnership with Baidu on the iPhone 16. Emerging reports indicate Apple may partner with other AI vendors, including Google and its Gemini AI, rather than offering its own large language model to users, at least initially. 

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Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design. Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9