WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal Are Out! China Bans Messaging Apps as Demand for VPNs Skyrockets

Ariel Ariel
Apr. 19

This is a single insight from This Week in Apps - Did You See It?. Check out the full article for more insights.

China is waging war on messaging apps. Not all, but the most popular ones.

Late Thursday night, China asked Apple to remove WhatsApp, Threads, Signal, and Telegram from the Chinese App Store. And when I said "asked" I really meant forced. And Apple complied.

Was this a result of demand for these apps growing in China?

Looking at the downloads of the four in the last year the easy answer is not really...

Of the four, Signal barely gets any downloads. Just under a thousand a week, on average, and 60K since the beginning of 2023, according to our App Intelligence. That represents about 0.5% of Signal's total downloads globally. I wouldn't call this a threat in any way.

Threads had a good launch week, but downloads dropped fairly quickly, averaging around 5K downloads a week. Threads has picked up momentum over the last few weeks, which might be why it's on this list even though it's not technically a messaging app.

WhatApps, the second largest in downloads, and Telegram which leads the pack, added 2M and 4.2M new users in China since the beginning of 2023, according to our estimates. Neither is "exploding" right now though, so I don't think it's demand that caused this.

Bypassing the Great Firewall

Here's an interesting thing you may not know. Most messaging apps are technically not supposed to work in China even before this ban. They have been blocked by China's firewall, rendering those apps useless.


Users in China have been using VPN apps to get around China's blocks.

So I looked at the downloads of all VPN apps in China and the trend explains the ban a lot more.

In the two years, downloads of VPN apps in China rose 310% to the highest they've ever been. Downloads of VPN apps in March of 2022 hovered around 470K. Fast forward to March of 2024 and that number is now at 1.9M, according to our estimates.

Without VPNs, messaging apps like Telegram and WhatsApp wouldn't be very useful so I'd expect VPNs to get banned first, but without access to messaging apps the Chinese government gets the same result.

I'm sure there's more at play here but looking at the downloads tells the story. And now the real question is what's going to happen to TikTok in the US.

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