Dear Mr. Kaplan,

Thank you for your reply to our July 18, 2016 letter re: Facebook’s potential operations in China. We appreciate your engagement on human rights through initiatives such as the Global Network Initiative and directly with our organization.

On November 22, 2016, the New York Times reported that Facebook was developing software “to suppress posts from appearing in people’s news feeds in specific geographic areas,” specifically “to help Facebook get into China.”1 The report states that Facebook would “offer the software to enable a third party—in this case, most likely a partner Chinese company—to monitor popular stories and topics” and would allow that third party to “have full control to decide whether those posts should show up in users’ feeds.” 

Your response to our letter and to media organizations states that Facebook hasn’t concluded how or when it may enter China. However, the New York Times reports that the suppression tool project “picked up momentum in the last year,” as more engineers were assigned to the effort. The story raises significant questions about whether the proposed system could still be taken forward, along with how Facebook intends to avoid complicity with censorship and surveillance abuses in China, either through this system or through alternatives that the company may also be discussing. We also note that the questions we raise in our July 18 letter remain unaddressed in your response to date. 

We urge you to undertake extensive human rights due diligence in exploring any potential approaches to China, even at preliminary stages. Given the recent media stories, we would like to request a meeting to discuss these matters further.

 

Sincerely,

Arvind Ganesan

Director, Business and Human Rights Division

Human Rights Watch