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By Clare O’Gara
Tue | Jun 16, 2020 | 5:30 AM PDT

If a time traveler could visit my pre-coronavirus self, they would probably give me one piece of advice: invest in Zoom.

COVID-19 thrust the virtual meeting platform into the spotlight this year, becoming the go-to resource for remote employment, education, and even socializing.

This coronavirus-induced image paints Zoom as a blossoming, relationship-oriented company—a hub for digital connection, innovation, and collaboration.

Recently, though, Zoom has come under fire for a different kind of collaboration: its potential cooperation with China.

Zoom shuts down Chinese activist accounts

Their names? Lee Cheuk-yan, Wang Dan, and Zhou Fengsuo.

Zoom recently suspended their accounts because of some Zoom meetings they hosted in early June on the subject of Tiananmen Square massacre commemoration.

According to Zoom, China notified the the company and demanded action:

"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."

Using meeting metadata, Zoom was able to determine the presence of mainland China residents on three calls. Next, it decided to terminate the accounts of the meeting hosts, even though none of them reside in China. The activists reside in the United States.

Zoom says that was a mistake. 

"We shut down the meetings instead of blocking the participants by country. We currently do not have the capability to block participants by country. We could have anticipated this need. While there would have been significant repercussions, we also could have kept the meetings running."

Now Zoom plans to take a different course of action:

  • Zoom will not allow requests from the Chinese government to impact anyone outside of mainland China.
  • Zoom is developing technology over the next several days that will enable us to remove or block at the participant level based on geography.
  • "We are improving our global policy to respond to these types of requests."

Now Congress is looking into Zoom's China response

Zoom explained its side of the story.

However, Congress now has questions about what is happening at Zoom.

In a letter to Zoom from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, members of Congress questioned Zoom's relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.

They have 10 questions for the virtual meeting platform, but here are three highlights:

  1. "As a U.S.-based company, please cite the 'local law' you claim to have complied with to justify suppressing the free speech of U.S.-based Chinese activists and identify the date on which you reinstated the accounts of such activists."
  2. "Please explain how and why Zoom collects information on Americans and what specific categories of information is collected."
  3. "Does Zoom have a data sharing agreement with the Chinese Communist Party or any Chinese state-owned entity? If yes, please explain what the agreement covers and why."

Zoom is already being sued for alleged privacy violations and has been on a wild roller-coaster like ride since the COVID-19 pandemic boosted its business and the intensity of the spotlight on the company.

Apparently, that wild ride is not over yet.

Related podcast: Zoom, Remote Tools, Privacy, and Cyberecurity

Tags: Privacy, China,