Zuckerberg to partner with Baidu to open Facebook China?

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Image: Sina (via guardian.co.uk)

Founder of Facebook and recent inductee to Time’s Person of the Year, Mark Zuckerberg, has been spotted in China taking a tour around Baidu; and now, speculation is rising of a possible Facebook in China, with the help of Baidu’s power in one of the largest markets in terms of users on the Internet.

Baidu has been quick to downplay such rumours, telling that his meeting with Baidu’s founder Robin Li was simply “two nerds comparing notes”, according to a spokesperson.

However, with Facebook already hinting that it could launch a full scale assault in Asia – mainly at China, South Korea, Russia and Japan – where it, like Google and Yahoo, have failed to capture internet users because of local rivals. (Twitter is a notable exception, where users from Japan have used the microblogging site, causing Twitter to create a localised version – the very first one)

The key important thing is, sadly, censorship. In order to make a big mark in China, it has to satisfy China’s strict censorship program, and with that, self-censorship as businesses are held responsible for the content hosted on their servers. As well, it could be forced in a situation that it would have to hand over data to the Chinese government – whether that it is done voluntarily (similar to Yahoo) or involuntary is unknown at this point.

And with controversial figures (in China) such as the Dalai Lama, and groups opposed to Chinese censorship and prisoners of free speech – either Facebook has to create a Chinese-language site that blocks access to these types of groups, or even worse, pull them down and causing more negative backlash.

The strict censorship has already caused Google, who agreed to do so in order to capture Chinese users into its web of users, to pull out this year and move to Hong Kong, where it continues to offer Chinese-language advertising and services, but only to Hong Kong users and to some Chinese users, depending on the filter list updates.

But for Facebook, if it can accomplish such a feat and capture a lot of the one-billion strong country, then it means more money for the growing social network, and attractive to be bought out. But whether that is a good move at the sake of losing users, is a whole different story.