U.S. senator critical of rumored Facebook-Baidu tie-up

Senator Dick Durbin is worried a deal between Facebook and Chinese search engine Baidu could endanger free speech

The possibility of Facebook entering China has started to draw political scrutiny, with U.S. senator Dick Durbin questioning whether a rumored tie-up between the U.S. social networking site and Chinese search engine Baidu would affect users' free speech and privacy.

In recent months, the Web has been abuzz with reports that Facebook is gearing up to launch a site for China by partnering with the country's largest search engine, Baidu. Access to Facebook is currently blocked in China due to the country's strict Web censorship, which takes down content considered harmful or politically sensitive. Baidu, China's most popular search engine, censors some search results in order to comply with Chinese laws.

Neither Facebook or Baidu have publically mentioned any such partnership. But the senator took aim at the possibility in a letter to Baidu's CEO Robin Li. The senator also published the letter on his website on Wednesday.

In his letter, Durbin urged Baidu to protect users' free speech, and asked the company what steps it will take to ensure its services won't be misused by the Chinese government to censor the Internet and monitor political dissidents.

Durbin also said he was concerned about the possibility that Baidu and Facebook will partner to launch a social networking site in China.

"As demonstrated by recent developments in the Arab World, social networking technology is particularly susceptible to exploitation by governments," he wrote. He asked Baidu what safeguards would be implemented to protect users if the search company and Facebook do go ahead and launch a social networking site in China.

The letter could provide a preview of the kind of congressional criticism Facebook will face if it decides to enter the Chinese market. The same happened with Google years earlier when it decided to launch a censored version of its search engine in China. Google was forced to defend the move in front of U.S. lawmakers. Google shut its China-based search engine last year after the company decided it would no longer censor search results in the country. The Google.cn site now redirects search requests to the company's less-regulated search engine in Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China.

In recent months, China has also demonstrated its strict control over the Web after activists posted an online call urging the Chinese people to hold a "Jasmine revolution" against the government. Users on Chinese social networking sites and microblogs have been prevented from posting and searching for content related to the protest call.

If Facebook were to enter the Chinese market, the company would have to comply with these same strict censorship rules, said Michael Clendenin, managing director of RedTech Advisors.

Although Facebook's big draw is its international users base, the Chinese government might see this as more of a threat and force the social network to limit itself to China, he added.

"This advantage might actually be neutered by the Chinese government," Clendenin said. "Even if they partner with Baidu, Facebook would have to do a lot of censorship and that may be a bitter pill that they don't want to swallow," he said.

Baidu declined to comment on Durbin's letter, and Facebook could not immediately be reached for a response.

Speculation about Facebook's entrance into China began to heat up last year when CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited the country. During his time in Beijing, Zuckerberg met with Baidu executives including its CEO Robin Li.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags governmentregulationinternetFacebooksearch enginessocial networkingInternet-based applications and servicesBaidu.com

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Kan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?