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Daily Drip

Is Zoom Catering to the Requests of China’s Government?

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Video conferencing app Zoom has skyrocketed in popularity over the past few months of quarantine. But now, its relationship with China is starting to cause controversy. Earlier this month, it was reported that Zoom was closing Hong Kong and U.S.-based activist accounts after the Tiananmen Vigil held on June 4th.

In a blog post this past Thursday, Zoom clarified that the Chinese government did contact Zoom about four “large, public June 4th commemoration meetings,” demanding that Zoom shutdown involved accounts. Based on the presence of mainland Chinese participants, Zoom decided to shutdown three of the four meetings and suspend their associated host accounts. In the post, Zoom acknowledged that it should not have shutdown non-mainland China-based accounts, and subsequently restored them.

Going forward, Zoom stated, it will no longer allow requests from the Chinese government to impact non-mainland Chinese accounts. Additionally, Zoom is working on technology to parse accounts based on regions, and by the end of June, will publish a new global policy at the request of the US government. The internet remained somewhat skeptical.

On Friday, United States senators sent a letter to Zoom CEO Eric Yuan demanding legal clarification of the Chinese government’s requests. They also asked for an explanation for the termination of Hong Kong-based labor activist Lee Cheuk-yan’s accounts as well as those of US-based human rights activists Zhou Fengsuo and Wang Dan. The letter included other requests such as the number of suspended accounts, Zoom’s data sharing history in relation to China, and what other requests the Chinese government has made of Zoom. “Zoom’s millions of daily users across the world who support and demand basic freedoms deserve answers,” the letter proclaims.

Zoom’s relationship with China is complex, and many of Zoom’s research and design personnel are in China. In April, Canadian research firm Citizen Lab showed that Zoom sometimes uses AES-128 encryption keys, which are in some cases sent to Zoom users via servers in China. Citizen Lab also points out that Zoom owns three companies in China. These conditions, some say, are why Zoom is susceptible to pressure from the Chinese government.

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In Thursday’s blog post, Zoom said it “seeks to promote the open exchange of ideas.” Ultimately, Zoom as a product is used by millions of people around the globe. These citizens are subject to individual national laws, putting Zoom in a tricky position as it works to cater to and connect individuals across vastly different standards of digital security.

Lakshmi Iyengar
    Lakshmi Iyengar is a Yenching Scholar studying health, economics, and modern China. Before moving to Beijing, she majored in Biomedical Engineering at Yale. Follow her on twitter @vlakshmiiyengar for insights on China and life