Earlier this month was the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre during with the Chinese Communist Party opened fire on pro-democracy protesters. The exact death toll from this event is a matter of debate but the best estimate is that between 800 and several thousand people were killed. China does not allow any observance or public memorial of the massacre. And that includes any mention of it online.
Zoom, the teleconferencing company, recently shut down several Zoom conference calls after China notified it that the purpose of the calls was to discuss and remember the massacre. Zoom did so even though the accounts organizing the calls were based in the U.S. and Hong Kong.
On May 31, Zhou Fengsuo, a U.S.-based Chinese dissident and president of Humanitarian China, organized a virtual Tiananmen Square Massacre commemoration over Zoom. About 250 people, including participants from mainland China, joined the event. It included talks by Zhou and other student leaders of the 1989 democracy movement, the mothers of those killed in the crackdown, and survivors like Dong Shengkun, a Beijing resident who spent 17 years in prison for attempting to block troops from reaching Tiananmen Square.
A week later, Zhou found Zoom had suspended Humanitarian China’s paid account without notification or explanation.
On June 10, Axios reported that Zoom had shuttered accounts of Chinese dissidents and Zoom admitted that it had done so. Zoom subsequently published an explanation for its actions and said it was reinstating the accounts of three activists based outside of China.
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.
China demanded it and Zoom jumped:
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 4th 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.
Zoom admits it was wrong to suspend the accounts of people outside China for violating Chinese law. It says in the future it will develop technology to allow it to block users based on their country of origin. In other words, Zoom is working hard to make sure it can comply with Chinese censorship requests as if it were a paid part of the great firewall of China. Zoom has already limited the ability of people within China to host calls using free accounts.
California-based videoconferencing company Zoom Video Communications has suspended individual users from signing up in China, the Nikkei Asian Review has learned.
As of May 1, individual free users can no longer host meetings on Zoom but will still be able to join them. Only paid enterprise accounts and individuals who had upgraded to paid accounts prior to the cutoff date will be able to host meetings…
Donghan Telecom said the restriction on Chinese individual accounts is due to “regulatory requirements” in China, according to media reports. This is not be the first time Zoom caught Chinese regulators’ attention: the videoconferencing service was temporarily blocked in China last fall at the height of the trade war.
Two U.S. Senators (Rubio and Markey) sent a letter to Chinese born CEO Eric Yuan. The letter asked for answers to a series of questions including: “Does Zoom have CCP branches or committees within the company’s PRC offices? If so, how many, and who are the branch or committee secretaries?”
Because of concerns over Zoom’s security, Taiwan has banned its use by officials. The U.S. Senate and Space X have also banned its use.
It’s not as if Zoom has no choice. The company could simply announce it won’t participate in what is clearly Chinese censorship. If that means Zoom can’t operate in China, maybe that’s a price an American company built on freedom of communication should be willing to accept. As things stand now, Zoom is choosing to become part of the CCP’s censorship apparatus in order to keep operating there.