Open Ambassador?

Courtesy Photo.

I used to live down the street from Facebook’s headquarters on Hamilton Avenue in sunny Palo Alto. In fact, their humble little office was next door to my yoga studio and right around the corner from my grocery store. I walked by their office several times a week but I didn’t really know what ”the facebook” was (it was for people younger than me for sure!) but had heard my (younger) sisters mention it. I (finally) joined facebook — albeit in a limited, partial and certainly not everyday way — so I could see pictures of my family. We don’t live in the same place and with facebook, I can see pictures of the cookies they baked last night.  

Fast forward to today: Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is in China today. PC Magazine reports that he is vacationing there with his girlfriend. Priscilla Chan is a Chinese American with family in China. Today Zuckerberg met with Baidu chief executive Robin Li and toured the company’s offices in Beijing. Baidu is the largest search engine in China.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked in China, along with Radio Free Asia‘s site. Google pulled out of China earlier this year and began automatically redirecting everyone using Google.cn to Google.com.hk, the Hong Kong search engine which offers uncensored searches in simplified Chinese.

Months before Google pulled out of China, Google’s Senior Vice President for Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond, wrote in Google’s official blog:

We face cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident–albeit a significant one–was something quite different.
First, this attack was not just on Google. As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses–including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors–have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities.
Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.
Third, as part of this investigation but independent of the attack on Google, we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users’ computers.  

 

Just so we all know the lay of the land behind the Great Firewall. 

In an October 16th interview at Stanford University (also in my old neighborhood), Zuckerberg said that he has been taking daily Mandarin lessons and would like to expand Facebook into China: “How can you connect the whole world if you leave out 1.6 billion people?”

Due to China’s firewall, most people in China aren’t familiar with Facebook because if they type the site in their browser they get the message ‘404 NOT Found’.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about facebook since I (reluctantly) joined, it’s that sharing and openness are at its very core. And I believe that that is a good thing. (As long as you have your privacy settings!) Whether with his personal or professional interests in mind, can the world’s youngest billionaire convince China to open up? Maybe after suffering from news and information (not to mention Facebook access) withdrawal during his two-week vacation, he’ll be convinced of the need for more openness and less censorship in China.

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