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Microsoft to end LinkedIn in China due to 'challenging' environment

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Microsoft says it's pulling the plug on LinkedIn in China. The decision concludes a seven-year run for the business networking service. As NPR's John Ruwitch explains, Microsoft's decision was a long time coming.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: LinkedIn was effectively the last man standing. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Signal - blocked in China. Pretty much all major American social media and networking services are. China's ruling Communist Party has long sought to control the flow of information online, and its vice grip has only gotten tighter under President Xi Jinping. Earlier this year, LinkedIn was asked to comply with China's internet laws, and it stopped signing up new people. Then today it decided it was easier to just leave. In a statement, Microsoft said LinkedIn faced, quote, "a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China." Samm Sacks is a cyber policy fellow at the think tank New America.

SAMM SACKS: They've sort of, for a long time, been having to sort of grapple with, how do you please the Chinese government in terms of its censorship requests? And now you have a really tough environment where that creates all kinds of reputational risks on the U.S. side.

RUWITCH: U.S. lawmakers welcomed Microsoft's decision. China's cyber rules are getting tougher, and enforcement is ramping up. At the same time, tolerance has shrunk in Washington for tales of U.S. companies engaging in things like censorship to please Beijing. And Microsoft has a large footprint in China to look after. Here's Samm Sacks again.

SACKS: Microsoft still very much is in China, and I think the idea is to get more realistic about what tradeoffs they're willing to make in order to keep the existing business still alive. So it's kind of a cut-your-arm-off-to-save-the-body move.

RUWITCH: Microsoft will start a new service in China, a job site like LinkedIn but without any of the social media components - no posting or sharing articles that might irk China's censors. John Ruwitch, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.

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