Facebook’s CEO arrived in Beijing this morning and visited Baidu, China’s most popular search engine. Is he trying to get Facebook unlocked in China once and for all?
The answer is up in the air for now. Neither Baidu nor Facebook would disclose the reason for Mark Zuckerberg’s visit, although it’s suspected that Facebook is hard at work to reach a compromise with Chinese authorities that would allow the social network to better tap into the 420 million Chinese web user market.
It could be that Baidu and Facebook are simply looking to strike a business deal (Baidu has seen massive growth in China this year, no less because although it is privately owned, it is favored by Chinese authorities).
Kaiser Kuo, Baidu’s director of international communications, would only say that Zuckerberg was in China “on vacation” since he is interested in China and has been learning Mandarin “for a while now.” To the right is a picture of Mark arriving at Baidu’s headquarters earlier this morning.
If Zuckerberg is really trying to have Facebook unlocked over there, things won’t be easy. Last year, the Chinese government blocked Facebook when a large social protest by Uighur women took to Facebook to expose their truth and communicate between protesters.
Having to abide by China’s strict censorship rules may be next to impossible for Facebook, which has worked hard to build its brand around free speech, most recently supporting WikiLeaks’ right to exist, and refusing to kick its Fan Page off the site.
China obviously distrusts a site that freely distributes information among half a billion users. The issues surrounding privacy settings, advertising policies, and free speech could only become a more issue for Facebook to wade through were they to reach some sort of agreement with the Chinese government.
But as Matt Marshall over at Venture Beat points out, accessing Facebook in China is a pain in the butt; users often have to use proxy servers or VPN technology, and that effectively deters millions from making Facebook their daily hang-out spot. Developers are missing out on the chance to cater applications to 420 million users.
We’ll keep an eye out on what else Facebook’s CEO does while in China. Do you guys think his move to try to unlock Facebook there is smart? How could Facebook possibly please Chinese authorities in matters of censorship and maintain a coherent brand strategy?