Zoom admits to shutting down activist accounts at Chinese government’s request – TechCrunch
Zoom, the wildly successful video chat service that has been a pervasive feature of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, said he closed three accounts at the request of the Chinese government To hold Memorials for victims of China’s violent crackdown on peaceful protests in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
As Axios first reported, Lee Cheuk-Yan, Wang Dan and Zhou Fengsuo’s accounts were closed by the Video Communication Department for planning and organizing vigils and events commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre.
According to Zoom’s own schedule, the company was notified by the Chinese government of four major commemoration meetings on June 4 that were posted on social media. The Chinese government demanded that Zoom end the meetings and host the accounts. In response to the Chinese government’s request, Zoom determined that three of the four events included participants from mainland China and distributed information or discussed events illegal under Chinese law.
Zoom closed these meetings.
The company also suspended host accounts, located in Hong Kong and the United States.
In its statement, Zoom blamed the decision on the company’s inability to block participants by country. “We could have anticipated this need,” acknowledged the company.
To correct his mistake, Zoom said he “will develop technology over the next few days that will allow us to remove or block at the participant level based on geography.” This will allow us to comply with requests from local authorities when they determine that activity on our platform is illegal within their borders; However, we will also be able to protect these conversations for participants outside of borders where activity is permitted. “
Zoom attributed its decision to acquiesce to the Chinese government because of its operation as an international company. “We hope that one day governments that build barriers to disconnect their people from the world and from each other will recognize that they are acting against their own interests, as well as against the rights of their citizens and all of humanity.” , the company wrote in its statement. “The reality is that Zoom operates in over 80 countries and continues to grow, which requires compliance with local laws even as Zoom seeks to promote the open exchange of ideas.”
This is not the first time that Zoom privacy and security policies or that of the company potentially too comfortable relationship with the Chinese government has been questioned. The company was also criticized for routing some of its calls through China, which the company called a mistake, when the practice was first reported in April.
The company has previously acknowledged that much of its technological development is conducted in China, and government security concerns abound. Taiwan and India have both banned government use of the app, and the U.S. government and German Foreign Office restrict the use of the app for government purposes.
Despite all the security holes and criticisms, the use of Zoom has exploded. It now has more than 300 million users of its streaming video communication services.
The full company statement follows below:
We hope that one day governments that erect barriers to disconnect their people from the world and from each other will recognize that they are acting against their own interests, as well as the rights of their citizens and all of humanity. The reality is that Zoom operates in over 80 countries and continues to grow, which requires compliance with local laws even as Zoom seeks to promote the open exchange of ideas. “
Recent media reports about the negative actions we have taken towards Lee Cheuk-yan, Wang Dan, and Zhou Fengsuo question our commitment to being a platform for an open exchange of ideas and conversations. To be clear, their accounts have been restored, and in the future we will have a new process to handle similar situations.
We’ll do better by striving to make Zoom the safest and most reliable way to bring people together.
- In May and early June, we were informed by the Chinese government of four major public June 4 commemoration meetings on Zoom that were posted on social media, including meeting details. The Chinese government informed us that this activity is illegal in China and demanded that Zoom end the meetings and host the accounts.
- We have not provided any user information or meeting content to the Chinese government. We don’t have a back door that allows someone to walk into a meeting without being visible.
- For one of the meetings, although the Chinese authorities demanded that we take action, we chose not to disturb the meeting as it did not have any attendees from mainland China.
- For two of the four meetings, a US-based Zoom team reviewed meeting metadata (such as IP addresses) during the meeting and confirmed a significant number of attendees in mainland China.
- For the fourth situation, the Chinese government showed us an invitation on social media for an upcoming meeting referring to a commemorative event on June 4 and demanded that we take action. The Chinese authorities also notified us of a prior meeting under this account which they considered illegal. A Zoom team based in the United States has confirmed the presence of participants from mainland China at this previous meeting.
- Zoom currently does not have the ability to remove specific participants from a meeting or prevent participants from a certain country from joining a meeting. As such, we made the decision to end three of the four meetings and suspend or terminate the host accounts associated with the three meetings.
How we fell short
We endeavor to limit the actions taken to those necessary to comply with local laws. Our response should not have impacted users outside of mainland China. We made two mistakes:
- We have suspended or terminated host accounts, one in Hong Kong SAR and two in the United States. We have restored these three host accounts.
- We closed meetings instead of blocking participants by country. We currently do not have the ability to block participants by country. We could have anticipated this need. While there would have been significant repercussions, we could also have kept the meetings going.
Actions we take
- Going forward, Zoom will not allow Chinese government requests to reach anyone outside of mainland China.
- Zoom is developing technology over the next few days that will allow us to remove or block at the participant level based on geography. This will allow us to comply with requests from local authorities when they determine that activity on our platform is illegal within their borders; however, we will also be able to protect these conversations for participants outside of borders where activity is permitted.
- We are improving our overall policy to respond to this type of request. We will present this policy as part of our transparency report, which will be published by June 30, 2020.
In addition to connecting people for business, education, healthcare, and other professional pursuits, during this global pandemic, Zoom has become the platform people around the world choose for human connection. Zoom is proud of the role we play on a global scale and fully supports the open exchange of ideas and conversations that bring communities together to meet, organize, collaborate and celebrate.