Facebook quietly launches photo-sharing app in China

Facebook quietly launches photo-sharing app in China

Facebook has quietly begun offering a new photo-sharing app in China via a local company with which it has no affiliations.

The social media company has been blocked in China since 2009, necessitating the secretive launch of the new app, which is named Colourful Balloons. The app was launched via Youge Internet Technology, which could be a bone of contention between the tech firm and the Chinese authorities.

While the move might ruffle some feathers – and despite the social network’s nationwide ban in China - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made no secret of his interest in the country, holding held talks with Chinese politicians and sharing images of himself jogging in Tiananmen Square as well as videos of himself speaking Mandarin.

A statement from the company noted: “We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country in different ways. Our focus right now is on helping Chinese businesses and developers expand to new markets outside China by using our ad platform.”

Colourful Balloons reportedly functions very similarly to Facebook’s Moments app, which automatically sorts users’ photos and videos according to the time and location at which they were taken, as well as by indentifying the people who appear in them. It also facilitates the creation of shareable photo albums; however, Colourful Balloons shares data via Chinese social network WeChat rather than Facebook.

Facebook is not the only major global internet firm to be banned in China, with Twitter and Snapchat also unavailable in the market. China blocked Facebook’s main app in 2009, with Instagram being banned in 2014 and WhatsApp facing partial censorship last month as the government tightened restrictions on user-generated content.

With 700 million individual internet users, China’s market represents a $750 billion opportunity to tech giants such as Google and Facebook. Accordingly, they are eager to gain access to the Chinese internet market in whatever ways they are able to. However, they face tough demands from the Cyberspace Administration of China, which wants all app stores to be registered, and typically places blanket bans on technologies such as augmented reality until it is satisfied that they pose no security risks.

In November last year, it emerged that Facebook had engineered its own censorship software that could expedite its entry into the Chinese market. The tool was designed to prevent certain content from appearing in the news feeds of users based on their location.

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