Facebook launches 'Moments' knockoff inside China without branding, but with state approval

Looks like Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook have been working with the government of China to discreetly roll out a photo sharing service that's basically 'Moments' lite. Just one thing. It carries absolutely zero Facebook branding. And another. It appears designed not to piss China's internet censors off.

The app is called 'Colorful Balloons,' and it seems to be a kind of trial balloon for the Silicon Valley giant. If you can't beat 'em, collaborate with 'em.

From the New York Times:

Facebook approved the May debut of a photo-sharing app, called Colorful Balloons, in China, according to a person with knowledge of the company’s plans, who declined to be named because the information is politically sensitive. The app, which has not previously been reported, shares the look, function and feel of Facebook’s Moments app. It was released through a separate local company and without any hint that the social network is affiliated with it.

The stealthy and anonymous release of an app by a major foreign technology company in China is unprecedented. It shows the desperation — and frustration — of global tech companies as they try to break into the world’s largest online market. It also underscores the lengths they are willing to go, and their increasing acceptance of the idea that standards for operating in China are different from elsewhere.

The Colorful Balloons app (left) and Moments (right).

The Colorful Balloons app (left) and Moments (right).

The pains Facebook took to anonymize are really amazing:

The app was released in China by a company called Youge Internet Technology, according to a post in Apple’s app store. It is registered to an address in eastern Beijing, yet the room number listed in company registration documents could not be found amid a series of shabby, small offices on the building’s fourth floor.

According to the documents, Youge’s executive director is a woman named Zhang Jingmei. She appeared in a photo of a recent meeting between Facebook and the Shanghai government, sitting next to Wang-Li Moser, a Facebook executive whose responsibilities include building up the company’s relationship with the Chinese government. Ms. Zhang’s presence at such a high-level meeting indicated she is likely a Facebook adviser or employee.

Facebook won't comment on who Ms. Zhang is, or her relationship to the company. “Ms. Zhang did not respond to phone calls requesting comment.”

[PHOTO: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (facing) speaks to Chinese President Xi Jinping (centre) as China's internet tsar Lu Wei looks on. Photo: Reuters]

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