​China withdraws local Facebook presence approval

The social media giant that has been blocked for a decade has had its approval to stand up an innovation hub withdrawn by the Chinese government.

Hours after Facebook announced plans to open an innovation hub in China, the government has reportedly withdrawn its approval of the social network.

Earlier this week, a Chinese business registration website showed that Facebook -- which has been blocked in China for a decade -- had registered a subsidiary in the eastern city of Hangzhou, where Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba is headquartered.

The subsidiary, fully owned by Facebook Hong Kong Limited, was financed with an investment of $30 million.

As reported by the New York Times, Facebook spokeswoman Debbie Frost said on Tuesday the company was planning to open an innovation hub for Chinese developers and startups, similar to projects it has stood up in Brazil, France, India, and South Korea, and that the Hangzhou efforts would be focused on training and providing workshops that "help developers and entrepreneurs to innovate and grow".

However, later that day the registration of Facebook's Hangzhou subsidiary was taken down from the central government website. State media reports about the innovation hub appear to have been censored.

The report indicates Facebook had expected to use the subsidiary to coordinate with Chinese developers.

A person familiar with the matter said the Chinese government decided to withdraw Facebook's registration due to disagreements between local officials and the national internet watchdog, the Cyberspace Administration of China.

The world's largest social network has been blocked in China since 2009.

China has long operated the world's most sophisticated online censorship mechanism, known as the Great Firewall, blocking services from many of the Silicon Valley heavyweights.

In addition to Facebook, social media websites such as Twitter and YouTube are blocked in the country, with a pilot free-trade zone active in Shanghai in the past that allowed some access to such content, although still heavily restricted. Services including Microsoft Outlook and Gmail have also been banned under the laws.

Google has more recently made inroads into the Chinese market by opening an artificial intelligence centre and launching a game.

Facebook also launched a photo-sharing app called Colorful Balloons in China last year, which was apparently not government-approved and was eventually taken down.

The Chinese government has also shut live-streaming services and websites, tightened regulations governing internet access, and issued repeated warnings about the need to clean up content through various agencies.

At the beginning of 2016, China upgraded its Great Firewall and began cracking down on the use of VPNs, aimed at fostering the "healthy development" of the internet in China.

China's VPN ban also came into effect in March this year. The country had cracked down on the use of "unauthorised" VPNs throughout the course of 2017 with a campaign to take down and control censorship-thwarting software attempting to break the country's surveillance and blocking lists.

Facebook registered its Chinese domain facebook.cn as early as 2007 and had pushed for entry to the world's most populated economy, but reports suggested the US social network has had difficulty in doing so.

Over the past 10 years, founder Mark Zuckerberg and a number of executives have not given up on China, with Zuckerberg paying visits to China to meet officials and visit Chinese universities. Facebook also developed its China-version of the site, according to some reports, and developed a new censorship tool able to filter undesired information to comply with the requirements of the Chinese government.

With AAP

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