In a statement to the Times, Facebook doesn’t explicitly confirm or deny its involvement in Colorful Balloons. “We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country in different ways,” a spokesperson says. However, the executive director of the purported developer, Zhang Jingmei, has attended at least one crucial meeting between Facebook and Chinese officials — there’s a real chance that she’s a Facebook adviser or employee.
It’s not certain that China’s regulators were aware of the app, let alone who was behind it, and that could be a problem. While Facebook has bent over backwards to publicly court China, including multiple visits by Mark Zuckerberg (who even learned to speak Mandarin), this is decidedly more secretive. The government might balk at the idea of Facebook going behind its back, even if the app in question abides by local censorship laws. It’s a calculated roll of the dice that might help Facebook understand the Chinese market, but could also jeopardize what little chance it had of regaining its rapidly dwindling influence in the area.