Microsoft is abandoning its local version of LinkedIn in China, a move that would close off the last major U.S.-owned networking platform remaining in the country.
In 2014, LinkedIn entered mainland China, a country known for its highly restrictive censorship practices set by the Chinese Communist Party. The platform now boasts about 53 million local users, or roughly 7 percent of its global total.
But the professional networking site has recently drawn growing criticism over its move to block the profiles of researchers and others whose work involves China.
In an Oct, 14 statement, LinkedIn said that it made the decision to discontinue the seven-year venture upon facing “a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.”
In its place, LinkedIn stated that it will set up a new job search application later this year called InJobs without a social feed or post-sharing features.
“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,” the statement reads.
China has some of the strictest control over the internet. Twitter and Facebook were banned from the country more than a decade ago. Google exited in 2010, four years after launching a self-censored search engine there.
LinkedIn has made a number of controversial moves since its entry into the Chinese market that critics have deemed as appeasement to Beijing. That includes blocking coverage about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, eliminating the presence of a Tiananmen activist, and freezing the account of a China critic after he called the Chinese regime a “repressive dictatorship” and the state media “propaganda mouthpieces.”
Scrutiny over the platform’s censorship practices has intensified since June. On the morning of June 3, the eve of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, staff members from The Epoch Times based in the United States, Sweden, Turkey, and elsewhere were informed by the company that their profiles would be hidden in China.
More journalists and researchers received similar messages over the following months. Affected users were also told that their accounts in China could be restored if they agreed to remove unspecified content.
Questioned by The Epoch Times at the time, the company said that “due to local legal requirements within China, the profiles and activity of some LinkedIn members associated with certain publishing organizations are not visible within China at this time.”
The company also pointed to a 2014 statement from its former CEO Jeff Weiner, who argued that despite LinkedIn’s support for freedom of expression, its absence from China would deny Chinese users the opportunity to “pursue and realize the economic opportunities, dreams, and rights most important to them.”
Between January and December last year, LinkedIn received a total of 42 requests from the Chinese authorities to take down content, of which it acted on 38, the company said.
The fresh wave of censorship by the platform has caught the attention of U.S. lawmakers.
“LinkedIn’s willingness to carry water for the Chinese regime raises questions about how Microsoft became the only technology company with significant access to the Chinese market,” Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) wrote in a Sept. 24 letter.