Facebook CEO Looks to Crack Chinese Market

Dennis Faas's picture

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has had a private meeting with the head of China's largest search engine, Baidu. It's prompted speculation Facebook is trying to find a way past that country's ban on the site.

Zuckerberg had lunch with Robin Li, head of Baidu, while making a visit to China officially described ad as a holiday. However, a Baidu spokesman said he thought Zuckerberg wanted to "get the advice of someone who knows the Internet landscape well here." (google.com)

The Great Firewall of China

At the moment, Chinese users are blocked from accessing Facebook by a government filtering system that's been dubbed the "Great Firewall of China."

Although the filter is officially designed to block "inappropriate" content, it's seen by critics as a way of blocking political dissension. Facebook could allow opponents of the Chinese government to communicate and plan protests.

A Huge Market At Stake

Ironically, although China has the world's largest population, there are more Facebook users worldwide than there are Internet users in China (around a 500 million to 420 million margin). Were Facebook an independent country, it would have the world's third largest population behind only China and India.

Zuckerberg has previously said that although he is prioritizing other large countries, such as Japan, South Korea and Russia to extend Facebook's popularity, China is also a major target market.

"How can you connect the whole world if you leave out a billion people?" said Zuckerberg at a Stanford University address. Thus, it's not just a question of numbers. Zuckerberg believes that Facebook's model could work even in a politically restricted country. (Source: guardian.co.uk)

Analysts: Facebook Must Act Now

Analysts say that if Facebook does want to crack the Chinese market, it may need to move quickly. Social networks rely a lot on momentum: as one person joins, it increases the chances that their friends and family will, too. Zuckerberg will be hoping to avoid the mistakes made by Google, which already appears to have lost the battle to be the dominant search engine in China to Baidu.

Critics suggest that a strategic partnership between Facebook and Baidu -- which is working on its own social networking tool -- might help both sides, but any move into the country would be controversial.

Even so, Facebook would likely face a difficult balance between making the site usable and keeping officials happy. There may also be concerns over the site's oft-relaxed approach to user privacy, given the Chinese government's penchant for snooping.

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