In 2019 when LinkedIn started ask for the phone numbers of Chinese usersit was clear that the professional social network in the country would have to follow different rules. However, it turned out that it was not enough simply to put in place the regime required by the Chinese authorities to verify the real name; it was faced with the growing task of offsetting Beijing’s demand for censorship and upholding its “Western value” which extols freedom of expression.
The solution was to withdraw. Last October, Microsoft announced that it would No more the Chinese version of LinkedIn – which still worked to a large extent in the same way as the “global” one, apart from additional requirements such as the verification of the mobile phone number. On December 13th, Microsoft introduced a LinkedIn alternative called InCareer in China’s App Store and third-party Android stores. The new app, which focuses on jobs, carries the facade of LinkedIn, but lacks its social feed and content posting option, which would otherwise require efforts from Microsoft’s content monitoring team in China. InCareer will continue to use the messaging function.
On a blog post, LinkedIn explained its move:
While we have succeeded in helping Chinese members find jobs and economic opportunities, we have not achieved the same level of success with the more social aspects of sharing and informing. We are also facing a much more difficult operating environment and higher compliance requirements in China.
Microsoft isn’t the only foreign tech giant that has voluntarily withdrawn its service from China. In recent years, Beijing has a number of new cyber regulations Limit everything from the amount of data internet companies can collect to the transfer of data across borders. TechCrunch’s parent company Yahoo recently Leaving China citing an “increasingly challenging business and legal environment”.
China-based users using the LinkedIn app are now prompted to download InCareer, however, they can still access the full version of the social network through a web browser and VPN. But these additional fences are meant to keep users away from a platform that already had a limited reach in the country.
LinkedIn has been particularly popular with expats and Chinese users who work for multinational companies or cross-border companies, while its local competitor Maimai has more prominence. In April, Maimai said 91% of the time Chinese users spent on professional social networking apps was accounted for Market research company iResearch.
Microsoft’s other surviving service in China, Bing, also ran into trouble recently. The search engine became inaccessible in China on December 18, according to user reports Greatfire.orgeven though it’s apparently back online as of December 20th. TechCrunch reached out to Microsoft regarding the situation.
The incident also coincided with the suspension of Bing’s autofill function in China for 30 days “under the laws of the People’s Republic of China,” according to a note published by the search engine provider. It is unclear what laws the website was referring to.
Bing was 2019 shortly down in China when the reputation of its indigenous rival Baidu suffered. At the time, there was speculation that Baidu users who migrated to Bing in droves may have crashed the American website.
It’s not uncommon for foreign tech companies to catch up with Chinese laws after years of being left alone. Apple initiated a wave of crackdowns on unlicensed mobile games from its Chinese app store years after the relevant regulation came into force. The Bing ban could be a similar case where the search engine, which was long under the radar in China because few people used it, was finally ordered to fill the gap – autofill suggestions that get on the nerves of censors could.