Microsoft Shutters LinkedIn In China Over Increasing Censorship

LinkedIn, China’s last major US-operated social network, is being closed down, due to Beijing’s increasing censorship of the online world

Microsoft has announced on Thursday that it will shut down its local version of LinkedIn in mainland China.

The software giant cited the increased censorship China is practising online, as the principle reason for the closure. It will replace the social network with a job search website.

China and its Great Firewall have for a decade placed onerous restrictions on the type of online content its citizens can access. In August for example, Bejing imposed tough new rules governing how much time Chinese children can play video games.

Online gamers under the age of 18 have now been banned from playing on weekdays, and are limited to playing online to just three hours most weekends.

China censorship

But there have been plenty of other restrictions as well.

In 2019 for example China enacted a law that requires individuals to have their faces scanned when purchasing a SIM card, to ensure mobile users could be identified.

The country has also forced through a draconian security law in Hong Kong in 2020, which the British government said violated its Joint Declaration agreement between the two countries.

The law bans any activity Beijing deems to constitute sedition, secession and subversion, and allows Chinese state security to operate in the territory.

In August China also approved sweeping new rules that to govern the collection and use of people’s personal data going forward. Essentially this law prohibits “illegally collecting, using, processing, transmitting, disclosing and trading people’s personal information.”

China has also recently clamped down on private enterprises and companies in the country, which has impacted some of the country’s most public figures.

LinkedIn was the last major US-operated social network still operating in China.

Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook have been blocked for more than a decade in China.

Google meanwhile decided to shutter its China operations in 2010, after a notorious incident in 2009 and 2010.

A decade ago, Google accused Chinese-based hackers of carrying out the attacks on the Gmail accounts of dissidents, an accusation that China has always denied.

That cyber attack triggered a huge political row between America and China in 2010 and 2011, and resulted in Google effectively retreating from the Chinese market after it refused to abide by that country’s censorship rules.

LinkedIn closure

LinkedIn however has operated in China since 2014. In 2016 Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for $26.2 billion.

In the intervening period Microsoft attempted to co-operate with China, but has now found China’s ongoing demands too taxing.

In March a Chinese internet regulator told LinkedIn to better moderate its content and gave it a 30-day deadline, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

Last month, LinkedIn reportedly blocked several US journalists in China, citing “prohibited content” in their profiles. Profiles of academics and researchers have also been reportedly blocked on the platform in China in recent months.

But these demands have forced Microsoft to quit the market, after it confirmed in a blog post it would ‘sunset’ (i.e. shut down) LinkedIn due to a “significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.”

Microsoft said that when it launched a localised version of LinkedIn in China in February 2014, it “established a clear set of guidelines to follow should we ever need to re-evaluate our localised 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,” said Redmond.

“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,” it said.

“We’re also facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China,” it added. “Given this, we’ve made the decision to sunset the current localised version of LinkedIn, which is how people in China access LinkedIn’s global social media platform, later this year.”

Instead, Microsoft will launch a job search site in China that doesn’t have LinkedIn’s social media features.