Facebook has been developing a censorship tool that could help the company launch in China, according to a New York Times report. The development of the tool has been controversial within the company, with multiple staffers leaving, according to the report.
“We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country,” a Facebook spokesperson said via email. “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 has been eyeing a potential launch in China for some time. The country and its 1.4 billion residents are a huge potential source of growth for the company, especially as signs point to Facebook hitting a ceiling on ad growth in its existing markets in the near future.
But China is tightly controlling the type of information its citizens can see online. The country is deploying a censorship technology known as the “great firewall” that cuts off access to entire services, including Facebook and Twitter, as well as specific pages on news websites to keep certain articles out of reach.
The censorship tool under development would not delete content from Facebook, but instead block Chinese Facebook users from accessing certain posts. It would likely be maintained by a third party, such as a local launch partner, according to the Times.
The tool is just one of the ways Facebook is considering to enter China, and a launch in the country still remains far from certain. However, the company has spent significant resources on developing censorship software.
At one point, it even came up during one of the company’s weekly all-hands meetings. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used that meeting to defend the idea of Facebook censoring posts in China, according to the report.
Even with the deployment of a censorship tool, it’s far from certain that Facebook will come to terms with China about expanding into the country. Western companies have not only found the Chinese internet market difficult to navigate, but have also shied away from the country over government demands to share source code and other trade secrets with officials.
Update: 4:22pm: This post was updated with a statement from Facebook.