LinkedIn said it will shut down the version of its professional networking site that operates in China, marking the end of the last major American social media network to operate openly in the country.
LinkedIn said in a statement Thursday that it made the decision after facing “a significantly more difficult operating environment and higher compliance requirements in China.”
In March, China’s Internet regulator asked LinkedIn officials to better regulate their content and gave them 30 days to do so, according to people familiar with the matter. In the past few months, LinkedIn has informed several China-focused human rights activists, academics, and journalists that their profiles in China are being banned for containing prohibited content.
LinkedIn said it will replace its Chinese service, which restricts some content to meet local government requirements, with a job board service that lacks social media features such as the ability to share opinions and messages.
LinkedIn’s exit marks the latest chapter in the struggle by western internet companies operating in China, which has some of the strictest censorship rules in the world. Twitter Inc.
and Facebook Inc.’s
Platforms have been blocked since 2009. alphabet Inc.’s
Google left the company in 2010 after refusing to censor its search engine results. The chat messenger app Signal and the audio discussion app Clubhouse were also blocked this year.
Savvy internet users in China can still access these western services using workarounds like virtual private networks or VPNs, but many people don’t use them.
LinkedIn entered China in 2014 after making rare concessions to comply with local censorship rules. Microsoft agreed to buy the platform two years later. In 2014, then LinkedIn boss Jeff Weiner said that while the company supported freedom of expression, offering a localized version of its service in China meant complying with local censorship requirements – a view the company has reiterated since then.
In Thursday’s statement, LinkedIn said that after seven years in China, it “has not found the same level of success on the more social aspects of sharing and information.”
Microsoft has a difficult relationship with China, where it has fought software piracy for years.
Earlier this year, the software giant said a Chinese group of hackers believed to have government support was targeting previously unknown vulnerabilities in a corporate email product. Microsoft’s search engine Bing, which is also available in China, sparked controversy earlier this year after it published the iconic “Tank Man” image in connection with the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre not only in China but also for its US Blocked user. The company blamed “accidental human error” and restored the image.
LinkedIn was one of the few bright spots Microsoft had in China, with more than 50 million users in the country. Nevertheless, the platform was scrutinized more closely by the supervisory authorities this year. In May, Microsoft was the only foreign company among 105 apps named by China’s Internet regulator for “improper data collection,” with both LinkedIn and Bing on the list.
Microsoft President Brad Smith told journalists in September that China accounted for less than 2% of the tech company’s sales, and that percentage has declined in recent years.
Write to Stu Woo at Stu.Woo@wsj.com and Liza Lin at Liza.Lin@wsj.com
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