Will Facebook's New 'Colorful Balloons' App Survive China's Regulators?

After Facebook and its related proprietary apps were banned in China, the company looks for a new way through the country's regulatory regime.

Facebook is behind a new photo-sharing app which is reportedly being tested in China. Named "Colorful Balloons," the new app comes after China previously banned Facebook in 2009. Other Facebook-owned apps, such as Instagram and WhatsApp apps, are prohibited in the nation as well.

The launch of the new app, which does not use the company's name, was first reported by The New York Times and highlights the importance Facebook places on the Chinese market.

In a recent statement to Legaltech News, a Facebook spokesperson said: "We have long said that we are interested in China and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country in different ways. Our focus right now is on helping Chinese businesses and developers expand to new markets outside China by using our ad platform."

The latest move by Facebook is also considered important for attorneys and legal departments of tech companies to watch for a host of data privacy and business issues. 

John P. Pironti, president of IP Architects noted that attorneys and legal departments "should closely monitor this situation to understand how they may be able to develop and distribute applications in China and to Chinese nationals with fewer hurdles."

"Tech companies will still be required to follow all laws and regulations in China but may be able to navigate them better by using a local corporate entity instead of working through their offshore offices," he added.

Moreover, Peter Micek, a lecturer at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs said that "transfer of data from one jurisdiction to another—like China or Europe to the U.S.—is a red-hot issue in many regions of the world."

"Users in China should be aware and consent to the transfer and processing of their data by third parties across oceans," he said. "Expectations on companies to transparently account for their data collection and processing are rising fast outside the U.S. It's only a matter of time before those standards are brought to bear here."

"Second, lawyers for tech companies need to interface closely with public policy experts who understand the governance and regulatory dynamics where they operate," he added. "Especially when introducing new products or services, you need to know much more than just what's legal, but what's acceptable. You could easily put your staff, partners, or users at risk without due diligence into the red lines of key officials and regulators."

Looking ahead, Pironti said the Chinese government "will most likely review the app—if it has not done so already—to ensure it does not violate any regulations or legal requirements for use within China or by Chinese nationals."

"If they find the app to be in compliance, it is likely they will allow [it] to continue to be distributed," he predicted. "At the same time, they will mostly likely take note of this approach and possibly require more transparency by app developers and distributors about the organizations [that] are involved with the apps that are being distributed within China or to Chinese nationals."

Contributing Author

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Ed Silverstein

Ed Silverstein (emsilverstein@gmail.com) is a veteran freelance writer and and editor for magazines, websites and newspapers. He writes frequently for ALM Media's

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