Facebook extends global reach with WhatsApp purchase - but not in China

Social media company has no immediate plan to use new acquisition to get its content unlocked

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 12:08am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 April, 2015, 11:14am

Facebook has no immediate plans to use mobile-messaging provider WhatsApp, which the social network operator is acquiring for up to US$19 billion, as a means to unblock its content on the mainland.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and WhatsApp chief Jan Koum said in their conference call yesterday there would be no change to WhatsApp's operations worldwide.

"WhatsApp will continue to operate independently and autonomously," Koum said.

Zuckerberg added: "We'll find that there are different ways for the [two] organisations to work together, accelerate each other's growth, or to link over time, maybe, if we think of something, although that's not the plan upfront."

That strategy means Facebook will still have no presence on the mainland, which had 1.23 billion mobile subscribers and 618 million internet users at the end of December.

Facebook, which has 1.2 billion monthly active users worldwide and generated revenue of US$2.5 billion last year, has been blocked on the mainland since late 2009, after protests in Xinjiang turned into riots which authorities said were abetted by information carried on social media networks.

The South China Morning Post reported in September that Facebook and other banned sites would be available in the Shanghai free-trade zone.

WhatsApp, like other mobile-messaging apps such as Line and Viber, can be accessed on the mainland and is used to replace traditional text messaging.

WhatsApp has about 450 million monthly users worldwide and more than 320 million daily active users. Internet company Tencent's WeChat service is the most-used mobile-messaging app on the mainland, with more than 270 million monthly active users.

Dan Neary, Facebook's vice-president for Asia-Pacific operations, said the social network had engaged with companies on the mainland that wanted to market their products to consumers around the world. Facebook has more than one million online advertisers worldwide.

"We spend a lot of time directly, and via resellers, working with Chinese companies that want to do marketing beyond the mainland," Neary said. "We recognise China as the manufacturer for the world."