Facebook is close to signing a deal with leading Chinese search engine and web conglomerate Baidu to introduce a version of its site in China, according to a new rash of rumors that broke out late last week and continued to appear through the weekend.
Facebook is dismissing the rumors today, with sources close to the company saying that no deal is in place. However, Facebook’s official statement on the matter makes it sound like one could be coming: “We are currently studying and learning about China, as part of evaluating any possible approaches that could benefit our users, developers and advertisers,” a company spokesperson tell us.
Founder Mark Zuckerberg said last fall that Facebook couldn’t ignore China, and instead would figure out a way to work with government censorship and business regulators to figure out how to gain access. He took a trip to China over the winter holidays that included meetings with high-profile internet executives in the country, where possible partnerships were reportedly discussed.
Other tech companies, notably Google, have had trouble doing business in China due to censorship and business restrictions placed on them by the government. While many other parts of the world are experiencing dramatic social and political changes due to internet access — notably in the Middle East, over the last several months — China has gotten more restrictive with what its citizens are allowed to view.
We’ve covered the saga, most recently examining the strange stop-and-start growth that Facebook has been experiencing in China, as well as in China-controlled Hong Kong, and in Taiwan.
Facebook shot up from around 100,000 to over 600,000 users over January in China, even though it has been blocked in the country for years. It has lost many of those users over the past couple of months, though, and as of today only has under 400,000 monthly active users. It had already been big over in Taiwan, but it similarly surged from 8.7 million to 11.8 million over January, but has also fallen. Today it has 9 million monthly actives, not much more than where it’d been at the start of the year. Hong Kong, with around half its population on Facebook already, has meanwhile apparently maxed out with 3.6 million monthly actives.
Why the random growth? Maybe just a bug, maybe some odd unsanctioned workaround by users in China, or maybe some early tests of official Facebook integrations? See our previous coverage for more analysis of Facebook’s challenges and possibilities in China. The above data is derived from Inside Facebook Gold, our stats and analysis service for Facebook data.