Yesterday, LinkedIn announced their intention to shutter the localized version of the online social network in China prior to the end of 2021. The rationale for the closing of the service was keyed to the “challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements.” No doubt the challenges which LinkedIn faced were not only in China, but extended to the backlash they have been receiving in the court of public opinion following their acquiescence to censor from the Chinese localized version of their application individual accounts which the government of China found offensive.
The LinkedIn blog post continued, “While we’ve found success in helping Chinese members find jobs and economic opportunity, we have not found that same level of success in the more social aspects of sharing and staying informed.” It is the intent of LinkedIn to launch a straight up jobs board, which they are calling “InJobs,” described as “a standalone jobs application for China. InJobs will not include a social feed or the ability to share posts or articles.”
Ironically, given Chinese intelligence use of the social network for their offensive human intelligence recruitment efforts, LinkedIn and 104 other applications received notice on May 21 from the Cyberspace Administration of China (China’s internet monitor) for the illegal collection and use of personal data and given 15 working days to make adjustments.
The closure of the Chinese instance of LinkedIn will not take any wind out China’s intelligence apparatus sails. China, through the use of VPNs and off-shore internet points of presence will still be able to continue to conduct their very successful leveraging of social networks. In 2018, for example, the then Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, William R. Evanina issued a warning on China’s engagement within LinkedIn. This warning was evidenced by the successful recruitment of Kevin Patrick Mallory whose relationship with Chinese intelligence began with LinkedIn.
If the use of technology by China is insufficient to access LinkedIn to conduct offensive human operations, the playbook exists for the use of third-party surrogates. The case of Chinese intelligence asset, Dickson Yeo, and his addiction to LinkedIn as everyday the social network’s algorithm which provided to him a list of potential targets to engage using his fake consulting company created to support China’s human operations.
Noted investigative journalist, Bethany Alllen-Ebrahimian, who writes for Axios and who was previously associated with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists as the lead China journalist, woke up the morning of September 28 to a notice from LinkedIn, advising her that her account was being blocked in China.
I woke up this morning to discover that LinkedIn had blocked my profile in China.
I used to have to wait for Chinese govt censors, or censors employed by Chinese companies in China, to do this kind of thing.
Now a US company is paying its own employees to censor Americans. pic.twitter.com/eRTq4u8rJl
— B. Allen-Ebrahimian (@BethanyAllenEbr) September 28, 2021
A LinkedIn spokesperson speaking to Business Insider explained their engaging in censorship as only doing what is necessary. LinkedIn, “respects the laws that apply to us, including adhering to Chinese government regulations for our localized version of LinkedIn in China. For members whose profile visibility is limited within China, their profiles are still visible across the rest of the globe where LinkedIn is available.”
China isn’t leaving LinkedIn
As detailed above, China has had too much success using the social network to identify and recruit foreign sources of privileged information. FSO’s will be well served to highlight to their constituents that the counterintelligence threat posed by China through engagement via social networks, to include LinkedIn has not and will not wane.