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LinkedIn’s office at Hysan Place, Causeway Bay in Hong Kong on May 16, 2018. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Microsoft’s LinkedIn halts new account registrations in China to review local law compliance

  • The professional networking site is a rare example of a US social media platform that remains open to mainland Chinese users
  • LinkedIn denies that the move is related to Microsoft’s recent accusation that state-sponsored hackers operating from China attacked its email servers

Microsoft’s professional networking site LinkedIn, one of the few US social networks available to mainland Chinese users, is pausing new member registrations in the country as the company works to ensure it remains in compliance with local law.

“We’re a global platform with an obligation to respect the laws that apply to us, including adhering to Chinese government regulations for our localised version of LinkedIn in China,” the platform said on Tuesday.

LinkedIn, which entered China in 2014, is a rare example of a US social network that remains accessible in the country, where a government-built firewall blocks nearly all of the platform’s popular peers including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and, most recently, the live-audio chat app Clubhouse.

Instead, China has cultivated its own social media ecosystem consisting of the likes of microblogging site Weibo and messaging app WeChat for its more than 900 million internet users. Home-grown professional networking platforms such as Maimai – LinkedIn’s biggest rival in China – have also attracted a considerable number of users.

Microsoft says Chinese hackers used flaws in its software to steal emails

LinkedIn’s announcement came a week after Microsoft disclosed a hack on its email server software. The company said a state-sponsored cyber-espionage group called Hafnium operating from China had been attacking Exchange servers using previously unknown vulnerabilities.

A LinkedIn spokeswoman said on Wednesday that the pause in member registration in China is not related to the hack, but did not say when the sign-ups would resume.

Tech tensions between China and the US intensified during the Trump administration, with Chinese apps such as TikTok, WeChat, QQ and Alipay all coming under threat of US restrictions. However, a recent pause on US legal actions against TikTok has offered hope that policies under the Biden administration might be friendlier

(Alipay is owned by Ant Group, an associate of Alibaba Group Holding, the owner of the South China Morning Post.)