Business Maverick

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Zoom Says China Asked It to Censor Pro-Democracy Activists

The logo for the Zoom Video Communications Inc. application is displayed on an Apple Inc. laptop computer in an arranged photograph taken in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Friday, April 10, 2020. Zoom's shares have soared in 2020 as the popularity of its video conferencing service has grown during a time of widespread lockdowns aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg

Zoom Video Communications Inc. said it deactivated accounts of pro-democracy Chinese activists based in the U.S. at the request of China’s government, renewing concerns about the software maker’s ties to the communist country.

Beijing officials reached out to Zoom in May and early June about four videoconference calls that were publicized on social media to commemorate Tiananmen Square protests, the San Jose, California-based company said Thursday in a blog post. Zoom said that China “demanded” the company terminate the meetings and host accounts because of the activity, which it deemed illegal.

Zoom said that at least three of the four meetings contained participants from mainland China, and it made the decision to end three of the meetings and terminate the associated accounts, two in the U.S. and one belonging to an activist in Hong Kong.

“Going forward Zoom will not allow requests from the Chinese government to impact anyone outside of mainland China,” the company said.

The issue places Zoom in the middle of the clash between free speech and government censorship that has confronted other U.S.-based technology companies doing business, or trying to conduct business, in China. In another move that came to light Thursday, Apple Inc. removed two podcast applications from its App Store at the request of the Chinese government. Google pulled its search engine from mainland China in 2010, citing security and censorship concerns. A Google project to create a censored search service for the country, called Dragonfly, was killed last year after protests from employees and U.S. politicians.

Zoom’s actions stoked worries that the tech company, which has risen to prominence while millions have been stuck at home during the pandemic, was too close to Chinese authorities, who have sought to censor images and content about the 1989 protests and resulting massacre in Beijing. The event is a seminal moment for advocates of democracy in China. Zoom maintains a significant research-and-development workforce in China. Chief Executive Officer Eric Yuan was born in China, but is a U.S. citizen.

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, wrote Yuan Thursday, stating that Zoom was not the first U.S. company to censor users in order to do business in China, but in the end, the Chinese Communist Party would benefit more than the appmaker.

“It is time for you to pick a side: American principles and free speech, or short-term global profits and censorship,” he wrote.

Zoom, which announced Wednesday it had reinstated the closed U.S. accounts, said it was working on technology that could prevent participants from specific countries from joining calls that were deemed illegal in those areas. The company will also outline a new policy to address these types on requests on June 30.


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