Video communications giant Zoom has encountered growing scrutiny over the last few months over security concerns and its ties to China. This came to a head when the company announced it had suspended the accounts of US-based activists who were commemorating June 4, 1989 – a violent day in Beijing in which several hundred to thousands of peaceful pro-democracy protestors were killed in Tiananmen Square.
Several prominent critics of the Chinese government, as well as protest leaders in Hong Kong, also accused Zoom of shutting their accounts and severing live events.
The company conceded that it had shut down the protesters' accounts to comply with the law in China, which forbids free discussion of the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement.
Founder of the US nonprofit Humanitarian China, Zhou Fengsuo is also a former student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen protests. Zhou organized an event on the platform on May 31, arranged through a paid Zoom account associated with Humanitarian China. The California-based Chinese dissident said his account was shut down days after hosting the video conference.
In another instance, Lee Cheuk-yan, a Labour Party and union leader in Hong Kong, had his Zoom account shut down on May 22, a mere 30 minutes before a scheduled meeting with leading pro-democracy Hong Kong activist Jimmy Sham.
Additionally, a June 3rd Zoom conference for a Tiananmen commemoration scheduled for 200 participants was deactivated mid-stream. This was hosted by Wang Dan, a former Tiananmen student protest leader now based in Washington.
"What about American values? It's an American company," Wang told The Washington Post. "They should maintain a moral bottom line."
As a result, the platform that has become ubiquitous with facilitating the world's nascent quarantined lifestyle is coming under fire for its lack of commitment in protecting free speech.
"We are outraged by this act from Zoom, a US company," Zhou and other organizers told Axios. "As the most commercially popular meeting software worldwide, Zoom is essential as an unbanned outreach to Chinese audiences remembering and commemorating the Tiananmen Massacre during the coronavirus pandemic."
Axios posted a statement from Zoom which read: "Just like any global company, we must comply with applicable laws in the jurisdictions where we operate. When a meeting is held across different countries, the participants within those countries are required to comply with their respective local laws. We aim to limit the actions we take to those necessary to comply with local law and continuously review and improve our process on these matters. We have reactivated the US-based account."
According to Zoom, the company was notified by the Chinese government about the commemoration meeting publicized across social media, which they demanded be shut down. However, the company shut down those meetings without considering that US and Hong Kong accounts were not breaking any laws.
The video conferencing company blamed the mistake on its own technical inability to block participants by country.
Zoom announced it would be "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."
According to the company, all three accounts have been restored.
Zoom has come under fire for its security practices before. In April, it was discovered to be routing non-Chinese calls through Chinese servers. The company assured that it would start "geo-fencing" to prevent this from happening again.
Now some companies and government agencies across the US, Taiwan, Australia, Germany, and the U.K. are warning staff against using Zoom.