Facebook reportedly builds China filter, but official hurdles linger

Facebook’s re-entry in China since 2009 may not happen for years, given licencing restrictions and other regulations that favour locally-owned companies

China blocked Facebook in 2009. Photo: Reuters
China blocked Facebook in 2009. Photo: Reuters

San Francisco: Facebook Inc. is so keen to return to China that it built a tool that would geographically censor information in the country, according to the New York Times.

While that may help the Chinese government get comfortable with Facebook, the company’s re-entry may not happen for years, if at all, given licencing restrictions and other regulations that favour locally-owned companies. China blocked the world’s largest social network in 2009.

Chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg visits China frequently, and yet the company is no closer to putting employees in a downtown Beijing office it leased in 2014, according to a person familiar with the matter. The company hasn’t been able to get a license to put workers there, even though they would be selling ads shown outside the country, not running a domestic social network, the person said. The ad sales work is currently done in Hong Kong. The person asked not to be identified discussing private matters.

“We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement. “However, we have not made any decision on our approach to China. Our focus right now is on helping Chinese businesses and developers expand to new markets outside China by using our ad platform.” The company declined to comment on the New York Times report or its real estate interests.

The New York Times said Facebook’s tool would block content from appearing in the news feed. It would be provided to Chinese partners to help them censor content, the newspaper reported, citing unnamed current and former employees. Zuckerberg has supported and defended the effort, saying that it was better for Facebook to enable conversation in a country even if it’s not the full conversation, according to the Times. Bloomberg

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