Microsoft will shut down its main LinkedIn service for China in the latter part of this year, following tightening internet rules by Beijing. This is the latest American tech company to cut ties with China.
In a blog post Thursday, the company stated that it had faced “significantly more difficult operating environments and higher compliance requirements in China.”
LinkedIn will be replacing its Chinese-based platform with InJobs, which has some of LinkedIn’s career networking features but “willn’t include a social network or the ability to post or share articles.”
In March LinkedIn stated that it would suspend new member signups to LinkedIn China due to unspecified regulatory issues. China’s internet watchdog, May stated that it had discovered LinkedIn and Microsoft’s Bing search engine as well as about 100 other apps being involved in improper collection and usage of data. It ordered them to correct the problem.
LinkedIn sent warning letters to several scholars this year, stating that they had shared “prohibited content”, which could not be viewed in China but could be seen by LinkedIn users anywhere else.
Tony Lee, a Berlin scholar and a member of Berlin’s Free University, said that LinkedIn did not inform him what content was banned, but it linked to the section of his profile in which he listed his publications. One article he listed was about 1989’s crackdown on Beijing’s pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square. Another compared Xi Jinping to Mao Zedong.
Lee stated Thursday that it was “wishful thinking” for LinkedIn to keep its presence in a different format without social media elements. This is LinkedIn’s distinctive selling point, compared to other online job boards. He stated that LinkedIn would be better off leaving China than to “practice censorship dictated China”, which damages the company’s global credibility.
LinkedIn launched its simplified Chinese site seven years ago to expand its reach within China. At the time of its launch in early 2014, LinkedIn stated that expanding in China will raise “difficult issues” as it will have to censor content. However, it said that it would be transparent about how it does business in China and take “extensive steps” to protect member’s rights.
In 2016, Microsoft purchased LinkedIn. LinkedIn bought LinkedIn in 2016. Although it doesn’t reveal how much of its revenue is from China, it reports that it has more than 54,000,000 members in China, which is its third largest user base after India and the U.S.
Eyck Freymann, another scholar, said that LinkedIn once played a critical role as the only social network where Chinese and Western colleagues could communicate without being subject to (Chinese Communist Party’s) censorship or prying eyes. He sent a text message on Thursday, stating that he had received a censorship notice.
Freymann is a doctoral student at Oxford University in China Studies. He said that it was “shameful” that Microsoft spent months censoring its users and even pressuring them to self-censor. However, the company eventually made the right decision to end the practice.
After the Chinese government started censoring YouTube videos and search results, Google removed its search engine from mainland China. Later, it considered launching a Chinese-language search engine called Project Dragonfly. However, the idea was dropped by internal protests in 2018.
China blocks other social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, that are based in the United States.
Microsoft’s search engine Bing was temporarily blocked in China early in 2019. This led to Brad Smith, the president of the company, revealing that sometimes executives have to negotiate with the Chinese government about censorship.
Smith stated that while we understand that we don’t enjoy the same legal freedoms as other countries, we still stand by our principles.” Smith spoke to Fox Business News January 2019. “There are some principles we believe it’s important that we stand up for. We’ll sometimes go into the negotiating rooms and the negotiations can sometimes be pretty direct.