Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc have millions of users in China, the world’s largest Internet market, where the social networking services are banned, according to a survey released on Thursday.
Facebook grew to 63.5 million users in China in the second quarter of this year from 7.9 million in 2009, London-based researcher GlobalWebIndex said in a blog post. Twitter users tripled to 35.5 million in the same period.
Sites blocked in China can be accessed through so-called proxy services, which connect users to servers outside the country so they can visit sites that are filtered. The proxy services have helped Facebook and Twitter compete with local sites, including microblogging service Sina Weibo (新浪微博), GlobalWebIndex founder Tom Smith said.
“It only takes a little bit of desk research to discover that what is called the Great Firewall is actually much more porous than the Chinese government would like to admit,” Smith said in the blog post.
While they have grown, Facebook and Twitter are smaller in China than Qzone, a Web site operated by Tencent Holdings Ltd (騰訊), with 286.3 million users.
Local rival Sina Weibo had 264.1 million users. Google+, the social network created by Google Inc last year, had 106.9 million users. China has 513 million Internet users, according to the government-backed China Internet Network Information Center.
GlobalWebIndex asked 2,000 Chinese Internet users earlier this year which social sites they have created an account for and which ones they used in the past month.
Facebook has been restricted in China since 2009. Prior to selling its shares to the public, the company said in its prospectus to investors that the Chinese market “has substantial legal and regulatory complexities that have prevented our entry.”
Separately, Facebook on Thursday added a Gifts feature that lets people send cupcakes, coffee, stuffed animals or other gifts to friends at the social network.
Facebook said it was rolling Gifts out gradually, starting in the US.
“Every day, millions of people share special moments with their friends on Facebook,” the California-based firm said in a blog post. “Now, there is another way to celebrate these moments.”
People can click on icons that look like bow-wrapped boxes to select gifts from an array of merchants then send friends virtual cards either as private messages or for posting on public timelines on Facebook pages.
Intended recipients tell Facebook whether they accept gifts and where the items should be delivered.
“There are hundreds of gifts, with more added every day: cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery, a stuffed animal from Gund, or a digital gift card from Starbucks,” Facebook said.
The blog post showed the Gifts feature being used on a smartphone. Facebook has been under pressure to show how it will make money from users who are increasingly opting to access the social network from smartphones or tablets.