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China may be Eyeing Facebook Shares

06
Jul
2011

FacebookLogoThere’s a chiling rumor going around the grapevine that could spell disaster if it’s confirmed to be true. China, not exactly a paragon of democracy, is said to be trying its very best to buy a significant portion of Facebook. Their motive: well, suffice it to say that it’s not likely to mean improved privacy controls. Rumor has it that China has approached a fund that buys stocks from Facebook employees. They’re looking to buy enough stocks ‘to matter’. China is being represented by Citibank, and the company has since then tried to acquire as much as $1.2 billion worth of Facebook stocks for two sovereign wealth funds; the first being China and the second – surprise, surprise – the Middle East.

It isn’t hard to imagine the Chinese censors peering at the photos of users all over the world, compromising the privacy of the data that we post on the site. China has been known to be anti-free speech, after all, and the thought of a country that likes to ‘silence’ bloggers having a big share of Facebook is quite creepy. Social Networking sites in China have been known to ‘put out’ to the government when it comes to their users’ data. One can’t help but question whether Facebook will be the same once China does get a hold of a significant portion of its stock.

Well, here’s the part where we have to be thankful that Zuckerberg’s practically swimming in cash. Facebook, once it goes public, will be worth more – much more – than just a couple of billions. As such, an investment worth a billion dollars isn’t likely to matter. It’s going to be a paltry sum compared to the hundreds of billions that Facebook is likely to be worth.

Furthermore, even if China does hold a big share of the stakes, it still won’t be allowed to dip its fingers into the pool of private data. Shareholders don’t get that privilege, even if they do insist. Also, any stocks that China does acquire will be non-voting, so their prefrences will hardly count in the grand scheme of things.

So, can we all breathe a little easier now? Not quite. Not yet, anyway. China‘s looking for control, and holding some stakes will tip the balance of power a little bit to their side. Zuckerberg’s looking to enter China, as greedy as he is for more and more Facebook users. China, with its huge population, is practically Zuckerberg’s Holy Grail. He might need to do quite a bit of compromising if he wants to enter this huge market, and China‘s likely to ask for censorship at some point. It’s not just the mouths of the Chinese that the Beijing Government wants to control. If they could, they’d censor the entire world.

It’s a good thing that the democracy-loving people have an ally in CEO Sheryl Sandberg, who is acting as the voice of reason and warning Zuckerberg to tread with caution. Hopefully, he will listen. If not, then hey, Google+ migration anyone?

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