Zoom Accesses Chinese Requests and Closes Accounts

HONG KONG | The US company Zoom acknowledges having acceded to requests from the Chinese government to close the accounts of activists in the United States and Hong Kong who wanted to use its videoconference application to commemorate the deadly Chinese crackdown on Tiananmen.

In a statement Thursday evening, Zoom promises to equip itself with technological means to restrict to the territory of their country the requests of governments to stop activities which they consider illegal.

The application, popularized during containment linked to the coronavirus pandemic, is at the heart of concerns for freedom of expression.

Wednesday and Thursday, human rights activists in the United States and Hong Kong announced that three of their accounts had been suspended without explanation before virtual meetings planned to honor the memory of the victims of Tiananmen, an taboo episode in China. During the night of June 3-4, 1989, a military intervention in Tiananmen Square in Beijing had bloody ended seven weeks of pro-democracy protests in China.

Zoom then admitted to having temporarily closed these accounts and was justified by the fact that “like any global company, we must respect the laws in force in the jurisdictions in which we operate”, without further details.

In its more detailed statement Thursday evening, Zoom said it had been alerted by the Chinese government to the planned four public meetings online to commemorate Tiananmen.

“The Chinese government has informed us that this activity is illegal in China and has asked Zoom to delete the meetings and the accounts hosting them,” said the California-based company, which said it had acted against meetings involving users from mainland China.

Zoom adds that its current technology does not allow it to “remove specific participants from a meeting or block participants from a given country.”

“A failure”

“In this case, we have made the decision to end three of the four meetings and suspend or delete the host accounts associated with these three meetings,” the statement said.

Zoom acknowledges that its response “was a failure” and “should not have affected users outside of mainland China”.

The company has since reactivated the three accounts and will acquire tools to block or withdraw participants from certain countries.

“Zoom will not allow Chinese government demands to have an impact on anyone outside of mainland China,” she said. Zoom did not specify the identity of the holders of suspended or closed accounts.

Two US-based Tiananmen survivors, Wang Dan and Zhou Fengsuo, as well as Hong Kong organizer of the annual Tiananmen Vigil, Lee Cheuk-yan, have announced that their accounts have been temporarily closed.

Like other Western technology companies, Zoom faces demands from authoritarian governments in major markets. In China, Apple acknowledged in 2017 that it had removed VPN applications from its Chinese App Store, this software allowing to circumvent the blocking of the local internet. The group has also built a data center in China to store the personal information of its users in order to comply with a law on cybersecurity imposing this storage on Chinese soil.

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