China has long been a super guarded place, more so when it comes to the internet and freedom of speech. Their citizens have to rely on using VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) to get around the Great Firewall. Needless to say, Facebook is not available freely in China. But that hasn’t stopped the company from trying.
In a surprise move, Facebook has made and released an app just for China – where Mark Zuckerberg’s social network has been blocked since 2009.
Facebook’s China app, launched stealthily into the local app store under a company pseudonym, is a photo-sharing service called Colorful Balloons. The New York Times first spotted and reported on the app after verifying that it was indeed made by Facebook.
The Colorful Balloons app is actually a walled-off, China-only version of Facebook Moments, the spin-off app dedicated to photos that was first introduced mid-2015.
“We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country in different ways,” Facebook said in a statement to the New York Times.
The furtive Facebook app actually hit China in May, but its origins were only discovered yesterday.
The launch of Colorful Balloons comes after years of careful diplomacy by Zuckerberg, who often visited mainland China, and even met with top officials in 2015 such as Lu Wei, the internet czar responsible for blocking Facebook and virtually every other overseas social media app.
In March 2016, Zuckerberg was widely mocked for taking a jog through heavily polluted downtown Beijing – on a day the air quality was ranked “very unhealthy.” “It’s great to be back in Beijing!” wrote the CEO in a Facebook post, making no mention of the pollution.
Facebook’s new China app is up against WeChat, the popular messaging app, as well as the Twitter-esque Weibo.
This article first appeared in TechInAsia on 12th August 2017 written by Steven Millward