“Foreign” location services were bound to be blocked in China sooner than later

“Foreign” location services were bound to be blocked in China sooner than later

As China Foursquare-Superuser David Feng reported today, Foursquare is presently blocked in China. Feng provides the logical (in the Chinese government sense) reason that too many people were checking in at a certain square in Beijing on the anniversary of a certain event.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone – some are surprised that the Chinese government is aware of Foursquare in the first place, but come on, it’s not like it’s a stealth startup or anything.  This episode further illustrates what many of us already strongly believe – that social location services are extremely powerful real-life game changers – if allowed to flourish that is.

China is a mobile nation, and social location services thrive on mobile phones, especially smartphones. As our Martin Bryant reported earlier this week, Foursquare is already big in Japan, and if the service (or its competitors) stay unblocked in China, they’ll have a shot in China as well. Of course, since it’s China, the more likely scenario is that a domestic service will eventually win out over any of the current international ones.

So back to the blocking: lots of sites are blocked in China, so any foreign service that gets blocked is well, really not that surprising. Social location services such as Foursquare, however, may be considered especially “dangerous” to the Chinese government as they are optimized to create flash mobs.

Now there are flash mobs and there are flash mobs – the kind that fills a bar is one thing, the kind that fills a square that is watched over by SWAT teams is another. Chinese protesters (just like their counterparts around the world) are getting increasing savvy using mobile technologies, and social location services certainly allow protesters to quickly spread the work and congregate at any location, which is exactly what police states don’t want happening, especially with unregulated “foreign” run services.

If domestic Foursquare clones start to gain popularity, expect them to have a number of restrictions and regulations that will be closely enforced by China’s watchdogs. For example, we wouldn’t be surprised if sign up for such services required a government ID number (which is common) and that private check-ins (i.e. only between a user, their friends and the service) be disallowed. Also, the regulations might limit the number of check-ins at a location to a very low number (say 20) so that no place can look like it is forming a mob (of any kind). Of course, users of these services will also have to be very careful that they don’t check-in somewhere that the government deems restricted for whatever reason.

So foreign or domestically run, its hard to see a bright future for social location services in China or any other police state for that matter, no matter what the day-to-day benefits of check-in services are.

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