LinkedIn sets up shop in China

In what may come to be a significant landmark in the digital landscape, LinkedIn, the professional’s social network, has done what Google, Facebook and Twitter cannot: expand into the Chinese market.

In a blogpost announcing the move and the translation of its platform into Simplified Chinese, Derek Shen, LinkedIn’s president for China, states:

“Through this site, we hope to connect over 140 million Chinese professionals with each other and with our more than 277 million existing members globally. Our mission is to connect the world’s professionals and create greater economic opportunity – and this is a significant step towards achieving that goal.”

While the move makes perfect sense for LinkedIn – China boasts the world’s largest internet market with more than 500 million internet users – the social network has been forced to address the elephant the room: China’s online censorship policies.

While popular US social networks Facebook and Twitter remain blocked in China, LinkedIn chief executive Jeff Weiner says the social network will conform with China’s online requirements by implementing the following guidelines:

* Ensuring that Chinese government restrictions will conform to Chinese law
* Remaining fully-transparent and notifying members about how it conducts business in China
* Undertaking extensive measures to protect the rights and data of its members outside of China

While the company did not explicitly state which features would be restricted, some reports appear to indicate that the group discussion feature will be dropped for Chinese users. However, as John McDulig, writing for Quartz points out, politics and protests are rarely a hot topic of discussion on the site.

Nevertheless, the move may pose a moral quagmire for LinkedIn executives. Announcing the move, Weiner was still inclined to emphasise his and firm’s strong support of freedom of expression and opposition to government censorship.

Yet, despite this, Weiner justified the move saying he does not want to deny the service to Chinese professionals, promising to help business owners network, graduates find work and experienced employees climb up the professional ladder.

If LinkedIn does indeed fulfill its potential in China, it will be seen as a landmark move. Although Google made a similar truce with Chinese censors in 2006 when it launched a self-censored version of the search engine, four years later it relocated its regional operations and servers to Hong Kong, citing increasingly burdensome censorship as well as cyber attacks originating from China.

However, given LinkedIn’s focus on the professional knowledge sector, any restrictions imposed on it will probably be significantly less aggressive. What remains to be seen, however, is how how a US internet giant competes with China’s own online behemoths, WeChat and Sina Weibo, both of which boast a user base of more than 500 million.

By contrast, LinkedIn currently boasts about half of that.