Facebook has built a tool that will censor posts before they appear for the Chinese market, according to The New York Times. The tool, which was not commercially released and was tested internally, was intended to aid the tech giant in getting into China by abiding by China’s Internet censorship laws.
Facebook tool “extremely disturbing”
In a statement, Facebook spokeswoman Debbie Frost said, “We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country. 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.”
Facebook, however, didn’t address questions about whether it built the tool.
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The social networking site regularly eliminates content from its platform at the request of governments. The platform makes this process relatively public by detailing the nature and the quantity of take-down requests in a yearly report. This new software would differ by allowing a third party, probably a Chinese company working with the social media giant, to prevent messages from appearing in the first place, says BBC.
In an interview with the BBC, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group which campaigns for better privacy online, said the project sounds “extremely disturbing.”
Eva Galperin, the EFF’s global policy analyst, said, “Kudos to the Facebook employees who bought this to the attention of The New York Times.”
Doing all it can to enter China
Facebook’s censoring tool is not surprising and could assist the tech giant in making headway there, said Carmen Chang, a longtime China partner and expert at the venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates. She said the Chinese market is so critical and so large that many companies are searching for ways to get in, according to The Washington Post.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has learned rudimentary Chinese and attempted to be in the good graces of President Xi Jinping. When Lu Wei, China’s former Internet czar, toured Facebook’s headquarters in 2014, Zuckerberg left a copy of The Governance of China (Xi’s book) on a desk in plain view of cameras. There are around two times more people online in China than the number of residents in the U.S., but their online activities are managed by a vast system of censorship known as the Great Firewall.
Facebook, which has been blocked in China since 2009, has been running its advertising business from Hong Kong. Citing a source familiar with the dealings of the U.S. firm, The Washington Post said the tech giant is nowhere close to doing business in China.