Microsoft pulls LinkedIn out of China

US tech giant Microsoft has decided operating a social network in China has become too much like hard work.

In a blog post, SVP of Engineering at LinkedIn Mohak Shroff said he would be scrapping the special version of LinkedIn Microsoft made for China later this year because it has become impossible to do properly. Being a corporate type, however, he had to dress it up in oblique, euphemistic language, featuring talk of ‘sunsetting’ and a ‘challenging operating environment’.

The long and short of it is that Chinese leader Xi Jinping has been on a crusade to extort huge sums of money from the country’s tech giants with the threat of catastrophic over-regulation if they don’t play ball. Suddenly the likes of Alibaba and Tencent have come over all philanthropic and are tripping over themselves to chuck money into the ‘common prosperity’ pot.

Such a straightforward transactional arrangement is not available to non-Chinese companies, especially if the concessions required of them threaten to negate their revenues in that country with negative PR elsewhere. That would appear to be the moment of truth faced by Microsoft, which was presumably told to place even greater restrictions and perhaps even spyware and backdoors into LinkedIn, such that it decided to pull the plug on it.

“Our new strategy for China is to put our focus on helping China-based professionals find jobs in China and Chinese companies find quality candidates,” blogged Shroff. “Later this year, we will launch InJobs, a new, standalone jobs application for China. InJobs will not include a social feed or the ability to share posts or articles.”

LinkedIn was the last major foreign-owned social networking service to operate in China and its exit feel symbolic. Presumably Chinese citizens are even more heavily censored on social media than we are in the West and their ability to digitally interact with the rest of the world is heavily constrained. All this will just serve to accelerate the process of global Balkanisation that is already well underway.

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