Microsoft will shut down its main LinkedIn service in China later this year as Beijing tightens its Internet rules.
The company said in a blog post on Thursday that it was facing a “significantly more difficult operating environment and higher compliance requirements” in China.
Microsoft is the newest American tech giant to have severed ties with the country after years of trying to adapt its services to the demands of state censorship.
LinkedIn said it will replace its localized platform in China with a new app called InJobs, which will include some of LinkedIn’s career networking features but will not have a social feed or the ability to share posts or articles.
Chinese regulators have escalated broad crackdown on the internet sector to exert greater control over the algorithms used by technology companies to personalize and recommend content. They have also tightened privacy restrictions and increased control over the flow of information and public opinion.
LinkedIn announced in March that it would suspend the registration of new members on LinkedIn China due to unspecified regulatory issues. China’s internet watchdog said in May it found LinkedIn, Microsoft’s search engine Bing, and around 100 other apps were involved in improper collection and use of data and instructed them to fix the problem.
Several scientists reported this summer that they had received warnings from LinkedIn stating that they were sharing “prohibited content” that would not be made visible in China but could still be seen by LinkedIn users elsewhere.
Tony Lee, a researcher at Freie Universität Berlin, told The Associated Press in June that LinkedIn hadn’t told him what content was banned, but that it was linked to the section of his profile where he listed his publications. Among his articles listed was one on the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989 and another comparing Chinese leader Xi Jinping to former leader Mao Zedong.
Lee said Thursday it was “wishful thinking for LinkedIn to maintain its presence in a different form,” with no social media elements, a distinctive selling point over other online job boards. He said LinkedIn was better off pulling out of the country entirely than “practicing censorship dictated by China,” which harms the company’s global credibility.
It’s been more than seven years since LinkedIn launched a website in Simplified Chinese, the characters used in the mainland, to expand its reach in the country. At the time of launch in early 2014, it said that the expansion in China will raise “tough questions” because content needs to be censored, but that it will be clear about how it is doing business in China and “comprehensive measures” to protect members’ rights seizes and dates.
Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, bought LinkedIn in 2016. LinkedIn does not disclose how much of its revenue comes from China, but reports that it has more than 54 million members in mainland China, its third largest user base after the US and India.
“LinkedIn once played a crucial role as the only social media network in which Chinese and Western colleagues could communicate away from censorship (the Chinese Communist Party) and prying eyes,” said Eyck Freymann, another scientist who this year has received a censorship notification letter. in a text message on Thursday.
Freymann, a PhD student in China Studies at Oxford University, said it was “shameful that Microsoft spent months censoring its own users – and, worse, pressuring them to self-censor,” but that the company ultimately made the right decision have taken to pull the plug.
Google withdrew its search engine from mainland China in 2010 after the government began censoring search results and videos on YouTube. Launching a censored Chinese search engine nicknamed Project Dragonfly was later considered, but dropped the idea after internal protests in 2018.
Other US-based social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China.
Microsoft’s own search engine, Bing, was temporarily blocked in China in early 2019, prompting the company’s president, Brad Smith, to reveal that executives are sometimes engaged in difficult negotiations with the Chinese government over censorship and other demands.
“We understand that we do not have the same legal freedom as in other countries, but at the same time we stick to our guns,” Smith told Fox Business News in January 2019 that we are important, and we sometimes go to the negotiating room and the negotiations are sometimes damn direct. “
A massive hack of Microsoft’s Exchange email server software, which US officials accused of criminal hackers in connection with the Chinese government, added to the sensitivities this year.