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Groupon planning to launch in China?

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There’s no doubt that Chicago-based Groupon is a rising star in the Internet industry, with it’s interest- and location-based promotional deals garnering enthusiastic fans around the United States. Now, the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) and other outlets are reporting that Groupon looks to be getting ready to expand its operations to China. According to the WSJ, Groupon has begun advertising positions on Chinese job sites and universities, and China’s Gaopen.com has been holding interviews in an office with a Groupon sign on display—Gaopeng is owned China’s Tencent, which in turn owns a chunk of Groupon investor Digital Sky Technologies.

Last month, reports had Groupon in talks with Tencent about expanding its presence in Asian markets.

Groupon has not announced any plans to expand into the Chinese market, and has not returned requests for comments.

The Chinese market is a bit of a hot-potato for western companies, who must decide how to walk a fine line between accessing the world’s largest market of Internet users—450 million and counting, by most estimates—with having to comply with Chinese content, censorship, and business practice mandates that are often at odds with western values. Most famously, Google has largely withdrawn from the Chinese market rather than comply with state requirements that it filter search results for Chinese users to remove information China deems objectionable. (The move also followed cyberattacks against Google and other western companies that appear to have been engineered by the Chinese government.) U.S. Internet giant Yahoo has also found itself between a rock and a hard place in China; the company has handed over account information to the government used to jail dissident bloggers. China also blocks access to sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

Groupon’s business model may not face the same hurdles as a company like Google or Yahoo; however, Groupon may not have helped its cause in Asia with a serious of television commercials aired during the U.S. Super Bowl that made light of various social causes, including one focused on Tibet. Groupon withdrew the ads after a few days.

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