Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) has reportedly launched a new photo-sharing app called Colorful Balloons in China. The app allows users to share photos with friends and family members. The app was launched in May.
Paul Mozur of The New York Times unearthed the app in Apple’s Chinese App Store. The app was released through a local company called Youge Internet Technology. It is registered to an address in eastern Beijing.
Mozur noticed the app was similar to Facebook’s Moments photo sharing app and eventually connected the app company’s name to a woman appearing in a photo of a meeting between Facebook and the Chinese government. There has been speculation that the purported developer, Zhang Jingmei, is a Facebook adviser or employee. In the photograph, she is shown sitting next to Wang-Li Moser, a Facebook executive whose responsibilities include building up the company’s relationship with the Chinese government.
The app works with China’s biggest social network, WeChat, instead of interfacing with Facebook. There is no branding from the social media giant on the app. Facebook hasn’t explicitly confirmed or denied its involvement in Colorful Balloons.
It’s not certain whether China’s regulators are aware of the app or who may be behind it. The government might be upset at the idea of Facebook going behind its back. The social networking site has been banned in China since July 2009. That was followed by the banning of its photo-sharing app Instagram in 2014 and its messaging app WhatsApp being partially blocked last month.
The Chinese government has maintained strict oversight and control over foreign tech companies. Google shut down its China search engine in 2010, saying that the country’s censorship rules were too onerous. China is still an attractive region for internet companies. China has roughly 700 million internet users, making it the world’s largest market by internet users. Those internet users buy $750 billion of stuff online a year.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been working to find a way to get the social network reintroduced into the country. Those efforts have included meeting with governmental officials and adapting software to meet China’s rigorous regulations. Zuckerberg even spent one year learning to speak Mandarin. Facebook said in a statement, “Our focus right now is on helping Chinese businesses and developers expand to new markets outside China by using our ad platform.”