Zoom Video Communications Inc. have admitted that they deactivated the accounts of pro-democracy Chinese and Hong Kong activists in the US, at the behest of the Chinese government.
A blog post on the official Zoom website discusses the “recent articles in the media about adverse actions we took toward Lee Cheuk-yan, Wang Dan, and Zhou Fengsuo.”
Cheuk-yan is a pro-democracy Hong Kong politician, while Dan and Fensuo were both student leaders during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Fensuo moved to the US in 1995, while Dan was released from Chinese prison 1998 for medical treatment in the US, where he was exiled.
This was in May and early June; when the Chinese government contacted them about four “large, public June 4th commemoration meetings on Zoom that were being publicized on social media, including meeting details.” The Tiananmen Square protests are also known as the June 4th Incident in China.
The Chinese government also showed them a social media invitation for a then upcoming “June 4th commemoration event” meeting. The officials told Zoom that “such activity” was illegal, and for Zoom to suspend the accounts of those hosting the meetings.
Zoom insist no user information or the contents of the meeting were given to the Chinese government, nor any backdoor in their program.
In early April however, Zoom apologized for non-Chinese user’s data being “mistakenly” routed through Chinese servers. The program’s encryption was also criticized by The Citizen Lab, as a single AES-128 key could decrypt the packets.
The Citizen Lab also notes “Zoom, a Silicon Valley-based company, appears to own three companies in China through which at least 700 employees are paid to develop Zoom’s software.”
Zoom also claim that “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 meetings, Zoom analyzed the metadata (including IP addresses), and “confirmed a significant number of mainland China participants.”
Zoom explained that they did not “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.”
This comes after fresh turmoil in Hong Kong, where lawmakers in favor of Hong Kong’s independence were dragged from parliament as pro-China incumbent Starry Lee took the parliamentary chair while surrounded by security.
More chaos has unfurled inside and outside of parliament as politicians have been dragged out and barred entry from voting on bills regarding criminalizing criticism of the Chinese national anthem.
Another such case is regarding the national security law, that will allow Hong Kong to extradite those who have broken mainland Chinese law. Suffice to say, those fighting for independence may be deemed traitors.
On a related not, they also prevented free service users from hosting meetings (though they can still join them) around May of this year [1, 2]. Only those who upgraded to premium accounts prior to the change.
The Zoom blog post emphasizes that the accounts of Lee Cheuk-yan, Wang Dan, and Zhou Fengsuo have been reinstated and that Zoom “will have a new process for handling similar situations.”
Zoom admit they they limit their actions to comply with local laws, and acting on US based members was against that ideal. As such, Zoom state they will take the following actions going forward:
- “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.”
As people began to use video conferences and calls due to remote working under the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom came under critisism as many feared China’s influence over the platform.
Along with the aforementioned routing of data and security concerns, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shared the US government’s concerns.
When asked if the US congress could work remotely, she condemned Zoom as “a Chinese entity that we’ve been told not to even trust the security of.” The UK government were given similar warnings by their security advisors.
Earlier this month we dug into the claims that Chinese tech giant Tencent were behind Sony’s censorship of sexual content in anime games on PlayStation 4.
YouTube also recently apologized for an “error” causing Chinese language comments mentioning certain phrases to be automatically deleted; “共匪” or “Communist Bandit,” and “五毛” or “Wu Mao” (the nickname of the Chinese government’s hired commentators and trolls).
Both stories contain numerous other examples of US companies capitulating to the demands of the Chinese government.
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