Facebook likes to try new things and attempt the impossible, but now it has actually done it. Not with a new program or user record, but by getting past China’s seemingly unbreakable firewall without anyone noticing.
Facebook has apparently been using a messaging and photo-sharing app as way to gain access to China and test the waters for potential future growth in the country.
Disguised Messaging App
Facebook and its apps have been banned in China since 2009, but its app called Colorful Balloons recently made it through the firewall undetected.
The app was first released in May 2017 through a Chinese company called Youge Internet Technology. If you didn’t know any better, you might just think the app simply had a copycat design of the photo-sharing Facebook Moments app, but you likely wouldn’t realize the app is actually made by Facebook. Instead of connecting users through Facebook, like the Moments app, Colorful Balloons uses WeChat, which is used throughout China. The app allows users to make group albums with friends and family and privately share photos from their phones.
According to reports, Facebook has put great effort into making sure it didn’t seem connected to the app. The secret was uncovered when a New York Times reporter found the app and noticed its similarities to the Moments app and then connected the front company with a woman who was in a photo of a meeting with Facebook and Chinese government leaders.
Facebook hasn’t denied reports of the app entering China, but it did release a vague statement: “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.”
Testing the Waters
Colorful Balloons hasn’t gone viral and taken China by storm, but it is a way for Facebook to gain a better understanding of the Chinese market. The app is seen by many as a way to sneakily test the customer base in China. With the largest number of internet users in the world, it’s no surprise that China is a desirable location for Facebook. Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg has long said that Facebook would eventually come to China, but he has refused to elaborate on how exactly the company could get there. Zuckerberg has made multiple trips to China to build relationships and even learned Mandarin so he could better communicate with government and business leaders in the country.
Many other American tech giants like YouTube, Twitter, and Google, are also banned in China due to the country’s strict censorship laws, and it seems unlikely the firewall will be removed completely any time soon. However, Facebook’s recent move has proved slipping through the cracks could be possible.
Facebook’s move to sneak an app into China show how serious the social networking site is about getting into the country. The consequences for its actions and whether the site will ever be unblocked in China remain to be seen.