In a move that would mark the withdrawal of the last major U.S.-owned social media network in China, Microsoft announced, on Oct. 14, that it will be shutting down the local version of LinkedIn in the country. The platform has around 52 million users on the mainland.
LinkedIn entered China, a country notorious for online censorship, with restricted features in 2014. Although it had agreed to the Chinese regime’s demand to censor content, the company also promised to be transparent. Linkedin has stated that it supports freedom of expression and disagrees with government censorship.
LinkedIn’s head of engineering Mohak Shroff said in a statement that it would be ending its seven-year venture due to “facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.”
Competition with local rivals is also a problem for LinkedIn. “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,” Shroff stated.
While withdrawing the platform from China, the company will be offering a new alternative app for the market that solely focuses on jobs. The app will not have a social feed or allow users to share and post articles; features that have been critical to LinkedIn’s success globally.
LinkedIn is one of the companies affected by the increasing crackdown on tech firms carried out by Beijing over the past year. The Chinese authorities have already said that it wants socialist values to be promoted actively by the platforms.
In March this year, LinkedIn was punished by a Chinese regulator for not censoring political content. New user registration was suspended for 30 days as the platform stated that it was working to be compliant with Chinese laws.
Two months later, LinkedIn was accused of being one of the 105 apps that gathered and used personal information unlawfully. Last year, the platform had received 42 requests from Chinese authorities to take down content; LinkedIn acted on 38 of the requests.
The company has also faced criticism over pro-China censorship. In the past few months, several journalists, academics, and human rights activists have complained about their LinkedIn accounts being blocked in China due to posting “prohibited content.”
Censorship has occurred outside of China as well. In May, a well-known China critic in the UK revealed that his account was frozen and the content criticizing the communist regime was deleted.
U.S. lawmakers have criticized LinkedIn’s rising censorship. “LinkedIn’s willingness to carry water for the Chinese regime raises questions about how Microsoft became the only technology company with significant access to the Chinese market,” Republican Representative Jim Banks said in a letter on Sept. 24.
In an interview with the New York Times (NYT), Eileen Donahoe, executive director of the Global Digital Policy Incubator at Stanford University, said that it was unusual for LinkedIn to have continued operations in China for so long.
“It has gotten pretty ugly around the world where authoritarian governments are forcing the private sector, particularly U.S. tech companies, into these dilemmas,” she said.
Microsoft acquired LinkedIn in 2016 for a little over $26 billion. According to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, LinkedIn now contributes about $10 billion in annual revenue, up 27 percent from last year. LinkedIn’s exit is yet another example of how Western internet companies struggle to get a foothold in China. Google exited in 2010 while Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have long been banned.