Zoom shares easily shook off the controversy about the app’s vulnerability to intrusion by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), since most Americans don’t really care – if some MSS (Ministry State Security) spooks want to eavesdrop on our conversations with grandma, they can go right ahead. They might even learn a thing or two.
But on Thursday, concerns about Zoom’s ties to Beijing resurfaced following reports that the company disabled the accounts belonging to the surviving members of the Tiananmen Square student movement during a video chat event they held in America to commemorate the anniversary of the incident last week (in China, the massacre is referred to as “the June 4th Incident”). The call was shut down by the company at the behest of the Chinese government because it included dissidents dialing in from China, the FT reports.
As the FT reminds us, nearly one-third of Zoom’s workforce resides in China, although the company trades on the Nasdaq. Much of its R&D takes place in China, and its servers are based there (making them vulnerable to infiltration). Famous student leader and exiled dissident Wang Dan reportedly participated in the call.
Zoom disabled the accounts of a group of Chinese dissidents in the U.S. after they used its video conference service to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre. Zoom’s role in shutting down the meeting, which was hosted and organised by activists in the US but included participants dialling in from China, will increase fears about the platform’s security and how it will respond to government censorship requests. Zoom’s video chat service has exploded in popularity since lock downs were introduced across the globe to slow the spread of Covid-19. The company, which is listed on Nasdaq, has a large operation in China: nearly a third of its workers are based in the country and much of its R&D takes place there. It also has servers in China.
Zoom claimed it disabled the accounts, including one paid account, because the call ‘violated local – ie Chinese – law’.
Mr Wang’s team shared screenshots with the Financial Times of his Zoom call being cancelled twice and two of his team’s paid Zoom accounts being disabled. The cancellations started just as the meetings were due to begin on the morning of June 4 in the US, where Mr Wang is based. Zoom later suggested that the Tiananmen commemoration had violated local laws, saying that “We strive to limit actions taken to those necessary to comply with local law . . . We regret that a few recent meetings with participants both inside and outside of China were negatively impacted and important conversations were disrupted.”
The Tiananmen dissidents alleged that Zoom shut down the call on direct orders from the CCP.
“31 years ago, we were on the streets fighting the Chinese Communist party police; today, these kinds of confrontations have shifted to the realm of cyber space,” wrote Mr Wang on Facebook. “Through destroying freedom of speech online, the CCP seriously threatens freedom of speech and democracy globally.”
Mr Wang’s team attributed the cancellations to hacking attempts or orders from the Chinese Communist party. Beijing has always sought to quell discussion of the Tiananmen Square massacre, although previously focused on its own territory. Last month, the government stopped Zoom from allowing individual users to sign up in China, according to the Nikkei Asian Review. “The memorial events for the June 4 massacre . . . impair the CCP regime’s legitimacy. Hacking such an online memorial meeting would do nothing beneficial to any other people or organisations except the CCP, especially its top leaders,” said a member of Mr Wang’s team when asked as to the motives behind the attacks.
The NYT’s longtime Beijing bureau chief offered a more in-depth look at Zoom’s decision in a twitter thread, and an explanation that before it soared to global popularity, Zoom was once “a hole in the Great Firewall” that Beijing is now moving to seal.
The decision to censor the conversation is just one more example of why users should avoid the popular app, which has refused to implement end-to-end encryption and shown an alarming indifference to implementing security standards that might protect users from Beijing.