LinkedIn (Mostly) Exits China, Citing Escalating Demands For Censorship

from the UNSUBSCRIBE dept

Less than week from its horrendous decision to help China’s censorship apparatus keep Chinese residents from accessing the accounts of American journalists, LinkedIn has announced it will no longer be offering the full-featured version of its quasi-social media platform in the country. (via the BBC)

Specifically cited in senior vice president Morak Shroff’s announcement is China’s escalating censorship demands, albeit in a bit more non-specific terms. It also acknowledges Microsoft and LinkedIn made a calculated decision to do business with a government that had the power to shut it down (or run it off) if LinkedIn failed to satisfactorily acquiesce.

Our decision to launch a localized version of LinkedIn in China in February 2014 was driven by our mission to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. We recognized that operating a localized version of LinkedIn in China would mean adherence to requirements of the Chinese government on Internet platforms. While we strongly support freedom of expression, we took this approach in order to create value for our members in China and around the world. We also established a clear set of guidelines to follow should we ever need to re-evaluate our localized version of LinkedIn in China.

This strategy has enabled us to navigate the operation of our localized version of LinkedIn in China over the past seven years to help our members in China find a job, share and stay informed. While we’ve found success in helping Chinese members find jobs and economic opportunity, we have not found that same level of success in the more social aspects of sharing and staying informed. We’re also facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China. Given this, we’ve made the decision to sunset the current localized version of LinkedIn, which is how people in China access LinkedIn’s global social media platform, later this year.

This makes LinkedIn the last US-based social media service to exit the Chinese market. It was preceded by all the rest, which have either been blocked or voluntarily parted ways with the country. And this announcement doesn’t mean LinkedIn is completely done with China. The post says it will offer a stripped down version called “InJobs,” which will only contain users’ contact information and job histories. It’s just LinkedIn with all the “social” stuff removed, like the ability to share posts or articles.

That should reduce the number of censorship demands to near zero. But it’s China, so demands will continue to be made. This slimmed-down version of LinkedIn still gives the government the option of vanishing accounts of people it doesn’t like, making it more difficult for them to connect with potential employees and employers.

On the whole, it’s a good decision by LinkedIn. The past few years have seen demands ramp up. And they’ve also seen LinkedIn’s compliance rise to meet the demand. It’s not a good look for a US tech company, no matter how enticing a market of a billion potential users is.

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Companies: linkedin, microsoft

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Comments on “LinkedIn (Mostly) Exits China, Citing Escalating Demands For Censorship”

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14 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I have to wonder

China isn’t that expansionist – they want a buffer state between rivals for one (see North Korea). It is almost certainly more about internal control – Xi is engaged in a classic Chinese dynasty mistake of "screw over one of your best performers for fear of them becoming rivals and compromising your power". That occured many times – historically mostly naval related. First with foreign sea trade and later weakening their navy even after they had major cities raided by pirates and not even taking up the post-ransom offer to become/join their navy after they were already proven woefully inadequate. Given European powers and their hunger for trade and expansion that decision proved to be the start of a /lot/ of pain.

Xi is now screwing over information and cultural products now in favor of concrete – even for the sorts of Circuses to go along with the Bread like Pop/Idol musicians.

Paul B says:

Re: Re: I have to wonder

Its far more like he has no clue how to manage his economic system, but only really cares about having a thin skin and total control over his entire population.

Chinese people cant be too rich, unless of course they are 100% party line followers. The west cant have too much influence, unless we can copy their designs. Workers cant have too many rights, because no one cares about workers at all.

Mix in very low trust in anyone you meet and assume they could be a capitalist pig and welcome to what life in China is like right now.

Apartments are falling down, buildings were build for pure investment, entire ghost city’s exist. Its really nuts how much weird stuff is going on in China because the government wants total control.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: I have to wonder

"Xi is engaged in a classic Chinese dynasty mistake of "screw over one of your best performers for fear of them becoming rivals and compromising your power"."

That’s not how I see it. I’m answering this more verbosely in another comment on this thread. China already has local equivalents of Facebook, Twitter, Google, and, yes, Linkedin. Those all work about as well as the western version…so why should China let a western company grab a market consisting of 1/6th of the global population?

Far easier to just hit any foreigner with increasingly difficult and costly demands until they cave and move out. They’ll publicly call it "national security". Westerners who don’t know better will call it "censorship". Anyone noticing that chinese companies seem to have few of these issues will call it for what it is – thinly veiled protectionism.

The icing on the cake is that this still leaves Chinese companies free to grab revenue by exporting their own platform sans draconian measures, abroad, tailored to meet western customer demands.

In a nutshell they’re doing to the online environment what they did to manufacturing.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: I have to wonder

"The worst case scenario is an invasion of Taiwan."

That’s not a "scenario". It’s just "fact which hasn’t happened yet". In the end Taiwan’s sole chance of survival as a country is to ditch the pretense that they are China.

Or else the very second the US tires of keeping a battlegroup in the straits of Formosa, China walks right in and takes Taiwan. Whether it’s tomorrow or two centuries from now.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: I have to wonder

"With this major nationalist push by the Chinese government, are they gearing up for war?"

Unless the chinese leadership have gone full-on moron, then no.
What we’re seeing is essentially just the Golden Shield Project established by Deng Xiaoping in the 80’s working as intended. Full government control over what influence the west would spread into China was always the goal.

So every new platform or use of the internet, every new technology to emerge from maturing IT, every new trend sweeping the globe…they’ll all be evaluated according to those criteria of acceptable social impact China set up 40 years ago and treated accordingly.

But that’s just half of the equation. The Golden Shield certainly demands a lot but it’s funny how chinese companies aren’t hit as hard, innit?

As the OP states "This makes LinkedIn the last US-based social media service to exit the Chinese market. It was preceded by all the rest, which have either been blocked or voluntarily parted ways with the country."

Think about it – 1,4 billion people. 1/6th of the worldwide market. Much more than that if you only count the people within the G20.
If China wants to encourage the growth of its own IT sector and online services the easiest way to do it is to run off any foreign competitors.
Instead of Facebook the chinese now have Renren. Instead of Twitter they have Weibo. The chinese version of TikTok is Douyin….and related to the OP, Maimai, the closest equivalent to Linkedin, had been struggling in the chinese market.

So any foreign competitor stealing chinese customers from chinese companies will find itself facing increasingly burdensome demands to "align" with chinese authorities. At some point fulfilling those demands become costly enough to hit the red line – at which point that foreign competitor folds and exits.

Just according to Keikaku.

Meanwhile China eagerly exports its own platforms and gladly extends its companies into the rest of the world, happy to tailor the local solutions they export to the demands of western society. And they’ll do it well. Same as they have done with manufacturing, really. In the end everyone has to go see the Middle Kingdom for all their needs.

Unlike western administrations these last few decades, China has a plan they’ve stuck with for almost fifty years now. And oh boy has that plan paid off. China, in the end, is big enough to be self-sufficient and has been aiming for than end. This is manifestly not the case for most western countries whose economies would all become instantly hamstrung the very second they try to cut the umbilical to China. As both Obama and Trump noted in their attempts at trade wars which both in reality ended with a solid win for China and a nasty kick in the junk for US industry.

Random Troll says:

Censorship

I must be slow and stupid but I just don’t get it… why can’t an under-attack company just move any physical part outta country and make available full versions of what they have over the internet?
Example: Alphabet shut down all physical locations in Australia to exit the country, then keep running Google as usual until the government-sponsored theft is repealed and Murdoch goes to hell?
Or
Linkedin "exits" and just makes the full Chinese online.

What could stop them?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Censorship

"the majority of Chinese people online doesn’t go to the trouble of circumventing the firewall if there’s a Chinese site available that are comparable."

…and every time a chinese company achieves functional parity with the foreign version…that’s when that foreign company is suddenly leaned on heavily by the state. As soon as Baidu started being on par with Google, Google was pressured into shutting down it’s search business. Facebook got banned directly – as soon as Renren was properly up and running. When Weibo took off it was Twitters turn to get blocked…and Maimai may not exactly be LinkedIn but it’s close enough.

It’s the long-term goal of China – complete self-sufficiency, while still getting all the benefits of globalization by selling goods and services abroad.

Sure, the average Zhang San or Li Si could use a VPN to sneak past the Great Firewall – but why would they? China is about the same size as the US, has more than four times as many people and a culture more than ten times as old. They have even less use for foreign influence than the US and, looking at the recent spate of chinese blockbusters, no need for Hollywood either.

So instead of spending time and money sneaking past the Great Firewall the average chinese netizen just pushes a few tweets on Weibo, checks his social space on Renren and after work watches some mindless xianxia action on iQIYI to relax with a can of Tsingtao or two.

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