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August 13, 2017

Facebook has a new plan to enter China — a secret app called Colorful Balloons

by John_A

Why it matters to you

Facebook has been attempting to enter the Chinese market to no avail for years, but now, it may finally have a solution.

You don’t become the biggest social network in the world by taking “No” for an answer, and Facebook clearly has no intention of doing so when it comes to China. As per a New York Times report, the tech giant is making a new attempt at entering the all-important market by authorizing the release of a new photo-sharing app called Colorful Balloons. It doesn’t have “Facebook” anywhere in its name, but that doesn’t mean that founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t left a fingerprint on the new app.

While Facebook and most of its apps have long been forbidden within the Great Firewall of China, Zuckerberg looks to be trying a new strategy. According to an anonymous Times source, Facebook approved the debut of Colorful Balloons back in May. So what makes it a relative of Facebook? Apparently, it “share the look, function, and feel of Facebook’s Moments app.” However, an independent local company was behind its release, and this is the first time that it’s even been suggested that Facebook has anything to do with it.

That Facebook is willing to go to such extreme lengths to gain even the semblance of a foothold in China underscores the importance of China to most tech players. But time and time again, international firms have been frustrated in their attempts. Just ask Uber, which was ultimately forced out of the country earlier this year by homegrown competitor Didi Chuxing. But with 700 million internet users who spend $750 billion online a year, China continues to be an elusive prize.

So how does Colorful Balloons help? For starters, it could give Facebook insight into how Chinese users share information and interact with apps.

But the company, naturally, has remained tightlipped on its association with the app. The company only noted, “We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country in different ways.”

Still, it’s unclear whether this surreptitious move will ultimately be deemed kosher by the Chinese government.

“The government’s control and surveillance of media is strict, and it is almost impossible for them to open that door,” Teng Bingsheng, a professor of strategic management at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, told the Times. “Although Mark Zuckerberg has visited China many times and practiced his Chinese very hard, I don’t foresee any major breakthroughs for Facebook.”

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