Facebook has been secretly testing a photo app in China — it’s called ‘Colourful Balloons’

Mark Zuckerberg on Great Wall of China
Mark Zuckerberg standing on the Great Wall of China in March 2016. Facebook

Facebook has finally managed to sneak into China.

The social network has been secretly testing a photo sharing app called Colourful Balloons in the country, The New York Times reported on Friday.

Facebook has been officially blocked in China since 2009, and parts of WhatsApp’s service were recently blocked within the country’s borders. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has courted Chinese officials for years, and even spent one year learning to speak Mandarin.

Paul Mozur of The New York Times recently unearthed the app Colourful Balloons in Apple’s Chinese App Store and noticed how similar it looked to Facebook’s existing photo sharing app, Moments. Mozur then connected the seemingly-fake company name behind the app to a woman who appeared in a photo of a meeting between Facebook and the Chinese government.

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Colour Balloons (left) looks a like like Facebook’s Moments photo sharing app (right). Screenshot / The New York Yimes

When Business Insider asked Facebook to confirm whether it was behind Colourful Balloons, a representative sent the following statement and declined to comment further:

“We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country in different ways. Our focus right now is on helping Chinese businesses and developers expand to new markets outside China by using our ad platform.”

China, the world’s largest market by internet users, is an attractive but challenging region for internet companies. Google famously shut down its China search engine in 2010, arguing that the country’s censorship rules were too onerous and blaming the country for recent hacking attacks it had suffered.

Facebook has also experimented with getting back into China by creating a censorship tool that automatically suppresses certain posts in specific geographic areas, The New York Times reported back in November. Facebook has never confirmed the existence of the tool.

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