The social media giant has been secretly working on a tool that allows censoring content shown to Facebook users based on their geographical location. Some experts see this as a human rights sacrifice going against the core principles of the company.
After being banned from China for 7 years, Mark Zuckerberg is making yet another attempt to re-enter the most populated country in the world and the second largest economy. New York Times' Mike Isaac was told by three Facebook (NASDAQ: Facebook [FB]) employees that the company developed a location-dependent software that suppresses certain posts from appearing in users' news feeds. The access to the tool would be provided to some third-party partners responsible for censoring content on Facebook's behalf in order to comply with strict rules of the Chinese government.
Facebook lost its license to operate in China back in 2009, when the government wanted to control the communications around the Urumqi riots in the country that caused a serious public unrest and 140 victims. Even though China remains the most attractive untapped market for the social media giant, the government still strictly controls internet access and social media networks across its territory while letting Facebook in would mean a risk of spreading potentially unwanted news. However, there is no proven information whether Facebook has already offered the tool to the Chinese government by now.
“We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country. However, we have not made any decision on our approach to China. Our focus right now is on helping Chinese businesses and developers expand to new markets outside China by using our ad platform,” Facebook's spokesperson wrote in a statement, as reported by TechCrunch.
At the same time, Isaac mentions that several Facebook employees who were assigned to work on the censorship tool left the company due to the human rights controversy. The experts say that although the tool might never be actually implemented on the social network, the fact that Facebook was willing to develop such a software shows how far the company could go to gain access to the 1.4 billion Chinese audience. Censoring content on demand of the government doesn't fit very well with Facebook's core statement "to make the world more open and connected".
“It’s better for Facebook to be a part of enabling conversation, even if it’s not yet the full conversation,” said Zuckerberg when asked about the tool on a conference.
The New York Times adds that introducing a censorship tool under the name of Facebook could lead to further requests from other governments interested in manipulating the news and content displayed on the website to fit their political needs.