Facebook Inc. (FB), owner of the world’s most popular social-networking service, has held talks with potential partners about how to gain a foothold in China, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The discussions have been exploratory and may not result in an agreement, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private.
Entering China would give Facebook access to the world’s largest Internet market, with more than 457 million Web users. People who want to get on the social network there now rely on private-network services to circumvent firewalls that bar access to information the government deems inappropriate.
“We are currently studying and learning about China, as part of evaluating any possible approaches that could benefit our users, developers and advertisers,” Palo Alto, California-based Facebook said in an e-mailed statement.
Facebook, with more than 500 million users, aims to expand in other parts of the world to add members and advertisers. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg visited China in December and met with Internet companies including Baidu Inc. (BIDU) and Sina Corp. He also met with Wang Jianzhou, chairman of China Mobile Ltd., who said the pair discussed “the possibility of cooperation” in China.
Zuckerberg said at the time that he was on vacation in the Asian nation.
Facebook said in February that it’s opening an office in Hong Kong. While the aim is to focus on Taiwan and Hong Kong, the location brings Facebook closer to advertisers in China, where Susquehanna International Group LLP predicts the online advertising market will triple to almost $13 billion by 2014.
China, which bans pornography, gambling and content critical of the ruling Communist Party, blocks websites including Facebook, Twitter Inc. (TWTR) and Google Inc. (GOOG)’s YouTube, which don’t follow the nation’s self-censorship rules. Google pulled its search engine out of China last year after deciding it would stop censoring its content.