Zoom Video Communications Inc. admitted that on the request of China, it deactivated accounts of pro-democracy Chinese human rights activists based in the US. This proves that China is censoring content globally.
Zoom admitted this incident in their official blog. In the blog post, Zoom mentioned that Chinese officials reached out to Zoom in May and June about four significant video conference calls, which were trending on Social Media. These video conferences were to pay tribute to the Tiananmen Square incident.
Zoom quoted - “In May and early June, we were notified by the Chinese government about four large, public June 4th commemoration meetings on Zoom that were being publicized on social media, including meeting details. The Chinese government informed us that this activity is illegal in China and demanded that Zoom terminate the meetings and host accounts.”
Zoom mentioned that China asked Zoom to terminate the video conference calls and deactivate host accounts because of the activity, which is deemed illegal.
“For the fourth situation, the Chinese Government showed us a social media invitation for an upcoming meeting referencing a June 4 commemoration event and demanded we take action. The Chinese authorities also notified us of a prior meeting under this account that they considered to be illegal. A US-based Zoom team confirmed the attendance of mainland China participants in that prior meeting.”
As per Zoom, the Chinese officials demanded Zoom to take action, but Zoom kept one of the four meetings undisturbed as there were no participants from Mainland China.
"For one of the meetings, even though the Chinese authorities demanded we take action, we chose to keep the meeting undisturbed because it did not have any participants from mainland China."
Zoom said in the blog that three of the four meetings had participants from mainland China and Zoom terminated three meetings and deactivated host accounts. Two activists belonged to the US and one from Hong Kong.
“Going forward, Zoom will not allow requests from the Chinese government to impact anyone outside of mainland China,” the company said in the blog post.
Zoom announced on Wednesday that it had activated the deactivated activist Zoom accounts. Zoom also mentioned that they are building technology to prevent participants from connecting from specific countries to join video conferencing calls, which were deemed illegal in those countries. The company will release a new policy on June 30.
It is clear now than Zoom shut down the accounts of human rights activists based in the US and in Hong Kong due to the Chinese government pressure.
One of the activist Zhou Fengsuo, a Chinese based in the US, found his zoom account deactivated after he had hosted a memorial for the Tiananmen crackdown.
Another a pro-democracy campaigner, Lee Cheuk-Yan’s account, was also deactivated just before hosting an event. Lee Cheuk-Yan organizes a yearly Tiananmen vigil. He found out that his account was shut down just before hosting an event on an extradition law, which caused mass anti-government protests last year.
Lee said Zoom’s response was “shameful” and accused it of “political censorship”. “They have restored my account but Zoom continues to kneel before the Communist party,” he said.
“My purpose on opening Zoom is to reach out to mainland Chinese, breaking the censorship of the Chinese Communist party. With this policy it defeats my original purpose.” He said he had closed his zoom account and requested a refund.
Wang Dan, another activist whose hosted Zoom event on June 3 to pay tribute to Tiananmen crackdown, was shut down twice, said: “The Chinese communist party is actively attacking democracy around the world. They have already started to intervene in the social system and way of life in the US. The whole world should be on alert.”
Wang said Zoom’s statement did not absolve the company from responsibility for infringing on the “rights and interests” of citizens in the US where the company is based. “We will continue to seek the support of the law and public opinion, and ask Zoom to take responsibility for its own wrong behaviour,” he said.
Zoom said that the new measure “will enable us to comply with requests from local authorities when they determine activity on our platform is illegal within their borders”.
“However, we will also be able to protect these conversations for participants outside of those borders where the activity is allowed.”
“We hope that one day, governments who build barriers to disconnect their people from the world and each other will recognize that they are acting against their own interests, as well as the rights of their citizens and all humanity.”
By deactivating and interrupting these calls, Zoom has provoked the world community and forced everyone to think of freedom of speech and censorship by the Chinese Government.
Other U.S.based big tech companies doing business in China have also highlighted this.
Zoom’s actions have forced everyone to think about freedom of thought. Some key officials have also mentioned significant concerns.
US lawmakers and human rights activists have condemned Zoom. US Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, wrote to Zoom CEO Eric Yuan on Thursday.
To Zoom CEO Eric Yuan, Senator Hawley continued, “Trading American values for Beijing profits never ends well. The Chinese Communist Party has a long history of inviting American companies into its borders, only to steal proprietary information and technology and then repurpose that data for its own use. When you censor for the Communist Chinese Party, you may think it benefits you, but the only one who will benefit in the long run is the Chinese Communist Party.” View Full letter here.
Senator Hawkley mentioned in the letter that Zoom is not the first US tech company to censor the content to please China.
“It is time for you to pick a side: American principles and free speech, or short-term global profits and censorship,” he wrote in his letter.
Zoom Chief Executive Officer Eric Yuan was born in China, but he is a US citizen. Zoom has a significant investment in China related to the research-and-development workforce.
Beijing has always employed stringent internet controls. They are censoring content and blocking social media sites to control internet activities even beyond its borders to control its citizens and corporations.
We hope that one day, governments who build barriers to disconnect their people from the world and each other will recognize that they are acting against their own interests, as well as the rights of their citizens and all humanity. The reality is Zoom operates in more than 80 countries and continues to expand, which requires compliance with local laws even as Zoom seeks to promote the open exchange of ideas.”
Recent articles in the media about adverse actions we took toward Lee Cheuk-yan, Wang Dan, and Zhou Fengsuo have some calling into question our commitment to being a platform for an open exchange of ideas and conversations. To be clear, their accounts have been reinstated, and going forward, we will have a new process for handling similar situations.
We will do better as we strive to make Zoom the most secure and trusted way to bring people together.
- In May and early June, we were notified by the Chinese Government about four large, public June 4th commemoration meetings on Zoom that were being publicized on social media, including meeting details. The Chinese Government informed us that this activity is illegal in China and demanded that Zoom terminate the meetings and host accounts.
- We did not provide any user information or meeting content to the Chinese Government. We do not have a backdoor that allows someone to enter a meeting without being visible.
- For one of the meetings, even though the Chinese authorities demanded we take action, we chose to keep the meeting undisturbed because it did not have any participants from mainland China.
- For two of the four meetings, a U.S.-based Zoom team reviewed the meeting metadata (such as IP addresses) while the meeting was in progress, and confirmed a significant number of mainland China participants.
- For the fourth situation, the Chinese Government showed us a social media invitation for an upcoming meeting referencing a June 4 commemoration event and demanded we take action. The Chinese authorities also notified us of a prior meeting under this account that they considered to be illegal. A U.S.-based Zoom team confirmed the attendance of mainland China participants in that prior meeting.
- Zoom does not currently have the ability to remove specific participants from a meeting or block participants from a certain country from joining a meeting. As such, we made the decision to end three of the four meetings and suspended or terminated the host accounts associated with the three meetings.
How We Fell Short
We strive to limit actions taken to only those necessary to comply with local laws. Our response should not have impacted users outside of mainland China. We made two mistakes:
- We suspended or terminated the host accounts, one in Hong Kong SAR and two in the US We have reinstated these three host accounts.
- We shut down the meetings instead of blocking the participants by country. We currently do not have the capability to block participants by country. We could have anticipated this need. While there would have been significant repercussions, we also could have kept the meetings running.
Actions We’re Taking
- Going forward Zoom will not allow requests from the Chinese Government to impact anyone outside of mainland China.
- Zoom is developing technology over the next several days that will enable us to remove or block at the participant level based on geography. This will enable us to comply with requests from local authorities when they determine activity on our platform is illegal within their borders; however, we will also be able to protect these conversations for participants outside of those borders where the activity is allowed.
- We are improving our global policy to respond to these types of requests. We will outline this policy as part of our transparency report, to be published by June 30, 2020.
In addition to connecting people for business, education, healthcare, and other professional endeavors, during this global pandemic Zoom has become the platform people all over the world are choosing for human connection. Zoom is proud of the role we are playing globally and fully supports the open exchange of ideas and conversations that bring communities together to meet, organize, collaborate, and celebrate.
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