Fast Company

Foursquare Shut Down in China

foursquare chinaFoursquare may be many things--from a promotional advert system to a highly addictive and competitive game--but did you think it could be a tool for political dissent? The Chinese authorities think so, and appear to have banned it.

The U.K.'s Telegraph paper is reporting that "according to some sources" access to Foursquare has been shut down in mainland China. The reasons behind the censorship haven't been explained, but it's pretty typical behavior from a government that has regularly closed access to online services when they permit users to behave in unapproved manners--Twitter and Facebook have been targets, and the recent spat over Google's censorship is now the stuff of media legend.

But the leading theory behind the closure of Foursquare is very simple, and it harks back to an old and massive thorn in the side of China's government (and a huge stain on the country's human rights record): The Tiananmen Square disaster. According to Chinese tech news site Techblog86 there's recently been a movement in which many smartphone users in China have been "checking in" to the 4sq.com location in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. These folks have been doing so by the hundreds as a mark of solidarity and sympathy with the dissidents who protested against government oppression all those years ago.

Inside the PRC the Tiannamen Square protests are referred to as the "June the Fourth Incident," and authorities are sensitive to any display of political or personal disgust around the event. Indeed, Google would've been required to censor access to information on the massacre through Google.cn. And the elevated sensitivity of the government to Tiananmen Square is ably demonstrated by the arrest just this morning in Japan of a student leader of the original protests.

To keep up with this news follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter. That QR code on the left will take your smartphone to my Twitter feed too.

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2 Comments

  • Perry Belcher

    Social media is gonna have a hell of a time in China. As someone who has lived in China on and off for the last 13 years I can tell you that they don't give two wiggles about some Tech company in America's take on their version of freedom.

    These guys are hard core and serious about protecting there phony government jobs. My advice would be, don't waste your time developing in the Chinese market, there is no fair play.

  • Michael Bauser

    Foursquare has been used as a tool for political dissent. I'm pressed for time today, so I'll just repost what I said at Techcrunch. It won't make a lot of sense if you're not familiar with who Foursquare works:

    It sounds like the Chinese government is trying to prevent a virtual protest similar to one to the one that happened in Indonesia a few week ago. There, users were checking into a venue they weren't really at to commemorate (and, by association, protest government response to) the 1998 riots in Jakarta. (Or at least, that's why some people did it; I suspect some people just wanted a "Super Swarm" badge.)

    Foursquare was bragging about the Super Swarm, even after I warned them what was going on. Looks like China may have been paying more attention to Foursquare than Foursquare was. (To be fair, China may have been tipped off about something in the planning stages by monitoring message boards, or some such.)

    This is one of those situations where everybody's wrong: The users for checking into someplace they're not, Foursquare for not recognizing the problem, and China for censoring everybody, so I'm just going to be annoyed at everybody, but I'm going to be extra-annoyed at Foursquare, because I warned them, and I find people who don't listen to me to be quite intolerable.