Foursquare Blocked in China on Tiananmen Anniversary

Tiananmen Square on the 21st anniversary of the massacre
Tiananmen Square on the 21st anniversary of the massacre

Foursquare should consider this a badge of honor: You really haven't made it as a Western Internet company in China until the government censors you.

That's exactly what appears to have happened Friday as Chinese authorities tightened up information controls on the 21st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Foursquare, the fast-growing mobile networking service, now joins Google, Facebook and Twitter, which have all been censored by Chinese officials.

"The blockage started sometime last night ... and we have no information on when we may be unblocked," a Foursquare rep emailed DailyFinance. "We haven't done anything on our end."

For a government that prizes social stability above all else, the prospect of a Foursquare swarm in the heart of the giant plaza -- the scene of the famous student-led uprising 21 years ago that ended with a massacre -- was probably not that thrilling.

"There were a lot of people checking into Tiananmen Square and posting tips/protest messages to the venue," Foursquare co-founder Naveen Selvadurai told CNET.

Party Service or Political Tool?

Foursquare, which reportedly turned down over $100 million from Yahoo! (YHOO) recently, allows users to broadcast their location and see where their friends are. Originally used as a social tool for party-hopping scenesters, Foursquare has evolved into a nifty incentive game, where users are rewarded for frequent visits to locations and businesses.

But while most of the focus on Foursquare has been on the social and commercial aspects of the service, it's not a stretch to imagine Foursquare's potential applications in political demonstrations, protest actions, riots and insurgencies -- just as it's not a stretch to imagine how keen authoritarian governments would be to get their hands on that geo-locational data.

As location-based products become more ubiquitous -- and Google is moving aggressively into the technology -- their political implications will become clearer. Foursquare downplayed that angle Friday.

"As the company grows, we're continuing to see people using Foursquare in ways we never would have imagined when the app was first launched," a company rep says. "It's definitely interesting to watch how a group of users as passionate as ours can keep taking the product to new places."

No company likes when its service is blocked, for any reason, but at least Foursquare can take some grim satisfaction in the knowledge that its has become big enough that China's communist leaders view it as a threat.