Microsoft Corp.’s MSFT 1.30% LinkedIn said it would shut the version of its professional-networking site that operates in China, marking the end of the last major American social-media network operating openly in the country.
LinkedIn, in a statement Thursday, said that it made the decision after “facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.”
In March, China’s internet regulator told LinkedIn officials to better regulate its content and gave them 30 days to do so, according to people familiar with the matter. In recent months, LinkedIn notified several China-focused human-right activists, academics and journalists that their profiles were being blocked in China, saying they contained prohibited content.
LinkedIn said it would replace its Chinese service, which restricts some content to comply with local government demands, with a job-board service lacking social-media features, such as the ability to share opinions and news stories.
LinkedIn’s exit is the latest chapter in the struggle Western internet companies have faced operating in China, which has some of the world’s most stringent censorship rules. Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc.’s platforms have been blocked since 2009. Alphabet Inc.’s Google left in 2010 after declining to censor results on its search engine. The chat messenger app Signal and audio discussion app Clubhouse were also blocked this year.
Savvy internet users in China can still access these Western services using workarounds such as virtual private networks, or VPNs, but many people don’t use them.
LinkedIn entered China in 2014 after making rare concessions to abide by 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 adhering to local censorship requirements—a view the company has since repeated.
In the Thursday statement, LinkedIn said that after seven years of operating in China it had “not found the same level of success in the more social aspects of sharing and staying informed.”
Microsoft has had a difficult relationship with China, where it battled for years against software piracy.
Earlier this year, the software giant said a Chinese hacking group thought to have government backing was targeting previously unknown security flaws in an email product used by businesses. Microsoft’s Bing search engine, which is also available in China, drew controversy earlier this year after it blocked the iconic “Tank Man” image linked to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre not just in China, but also for its U.S. users. 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. Even so, the platform had come under greater scrutiny from regulators this year. In May, Microsoft was the only foreign firm among 105 apps called out by China’s internet regulator for “improper data collection,” with both LinkedIn and Bing named on the list.
Microsoft President Brad Smith told journalists in September that China accounted for less than 2% of the technology company’s revenue, and that percentage has been declining for the past few years.
Copyright ©2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8