- The Washington Times
Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Microsoft this week opened a new stripped-down version of its LinkedIn app in China that is specially designed to exclude free expression online, in submission to the communist country’s rules.

InCareer, the new app from LinkedIn, will function as a digital job board that does not allow people to post messages or share content as they can on LinkedIn in countries outside the reach of the Chinese Communist Party.

It’s the latest clash showing the Chinese government’s power to rein in Western internet companies eyeing a slice of the vast and growing web market. Chinese online censors have constructed what they call the “Great Chinese Firewall” to limit political debate and squelch criticism of leaders. 

“While InCareer will not include a social feed or the ability to share posts or articles, members can update their new look profiles and be discovered and messaged by recruiters, meaning their dream job can find them,” Mohak Shroff, LinkedIn senior vice president of engineering, wrote on the company’s blog on Monday. “Members can also use the messaging feature to stay in touch with their contacts to give and get help.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and a forceful critic of the Communist regime, told The Washington Times on Tuesday that LinkedIn made the “right move” but people should not lose sight of the perils of doing business in China

“Any users of the new site will have their personal information — including private data about their careers, employers, and professional aspirations — immediately accessible to the Chinese Communist Party, thanks to Beijing’s Data Security Law and other repressive rules,” said Mr. Rubio in a statement. “Complicity in upholding this authoritarianism is the entry price of doing business with China.” 

LinkedIn’s decision to scrap the social part of its social network to continue working in China was made after reports earlier this year showing journalists receiving messages from the company saying LinkedIn would censor them in China

The journalists facing restrictions work across the political spectrum. Benjamin Weingarten, a Federalist senior contributor and RealClearInvestigations deputy editor, published a screenshot on Twitter in June showing LinkedIn saying “legal requirements” prompted it to censor his content in China. Axios’ Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian published to Twitter a similar message she received from LinkedIn in September. 

Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, subsequently wrote to LinkedIn and Microsoft’s CEOs in September questioning the actions against Ms. Allen-Ebrahimian and a freelance reporter. Mr. Shroff announced in October that LinkedIn would end its operation in China and replace it with the jobs app, a move Mr. Scott praised on Twitter as a “good start.”

LinkedIn is far from the only American company making concessions to continue its business in China. Allegations that Apple cut a deal with Chinese officials to protect its interests in the country spread last week following a report from The Information.com, which cited alleged internal company records. Apple did not respond at the time to request for comment on the report, which said CEO Tim Cook had secretly pledged to invest $275 billion in China in exchange for more favorable regulatory treatment for its smartphones and other products.

The NBA has continued to get its games shown in China, though Boston Celtics player Enes Kanter Freedom’s activism exposing alleged human rights abuses caused the communist country to black out his team’s games. 

The Chinese Communist Party’s selection of what to display and where to show it has ramifications that reach beyond entertainment and job-seekers. LinkedIn Learning is an online educational platform used by students, including those at Pennsylvania State University.

After LinkedIn announced its new InCareer app, Penn State pointed its students, faculty, and staff toward other tools because of how LinkedIn‘s new plans may alter their study and work. A Penn State spokesman said the school learned of the change last week and communicated the news to students who complete video courses on the platform and to faculty who occasionally assign LinkedIn Learning videos as coursework. 

“Penn State understands that this global change may impact students, faculty and staff who are learning, teaching and working in China and use the LinkedIn Learning application,” said Penn State in a statement on its website. “Importantly, accounts for students, faculty and staff temporarily located in China will not be impacted upon their return home and users may resume access.” 

Prior to its abrupt departure from China, LinkedIn already posed a challenge for the U.S. government and America’s global competition with China. During the Trump administration, national security officials warned of how LinkedIn was used as a tool of Chinese influence in American affairs, including as a means of intelligence collection. In July, Google said that Russian hackers used LinkedIn messages to mask their efforts targeting Western European government officials who used Apple devices. 

Microsoft and LinkedIn have worked closely with the U.S. government, including participating in meetings with U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agency officials before the 2020 election. Other companies participating in those pre-2020 election meetings included Facebook, Google, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, Verizon, and the Wikimedia foundation that hosts Wikipedia. 

After the Biden administration took office, Microsoft’s relationship with the U.S. government on matters involving cybersecurity has grown more visible. Microsoft is participating in the Biden administration’s Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative, which is a partnership between the federal government and tech companies to combat hackers and ransomware gangs mounting cyberattacks against America. 

In China, LinkedIn’s InCareer will not be Microsoft’s only presence. GitHub, an open-source software development platform owned by Microsoft, has remained accessible in China

Despite the government’s rules dictating business practices, Mr. Shroff insisted LinkedIn was “excited” for the company’s new strategy in China. InCareer will be available at linkedin.cn and on Apple and Android devices, according to Mr. Shroff

The website for the new app directs customers needing support to Beijing LingYin Information Technology Co. and features an address located in the Yizhuang District.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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