HONG KONG (AP) – Video app company Zoom says it has blocked several meetings at the request of the Chinese government and suspended the accounts of three activists.
The company announced details on Thursday, saying that in May and early June, the Chinese government was aware of several online meetings scheduled to commemorate the crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989.
China prohibits public dissent. Zoom said the government said such activities were illegal and demanded that the company terminate organizers’ meetings and guest accounts, even if they were not resident in China.
Zoom subsequently suspended the accounts of US-based activists Zhou Fengsuo and Wang Dan, and pro-democratic activist Lee Cheuk-Yan in Hong Kong. It has since recovered all their accounts.
“In the future, Zoom will not allow requests from the Chinese government to affect anyone outside mainland China,” Zoom said in a June 11 blog post.
The company said it is developing technology that will allow it to block participants based on geography. This would mean that it could prevent people in mainland China from attending future meetings on Zoom that the Chinese government considers illegal.
It did not provide details on how it would determine which meetings would fit that description. That raises the issue of Zoom acting as a censor on behalf of the Chinese government.
Some international social media companies, such as Twitter and Facebook, are usually blocked in China.
Zoom is not. But it is one of many companies closely monitored by Beijing as they operate all over the world. Cyber security and censorship issues are particularly acute for those who transmit or store data on mainland China.
“Although my account has been unblocked, I cannot accept that Zoom is blocking Chinese participants instead. Shame on Zoom for political censorship on behalf of the Chinese government,” said Lee, confirming that Zoom has restored his paid account since Thursday. But he said he planned to cancel it.
Lee, who helps host the annual candlelight vigil each year to commemorate the crackdown in 1989, previously said he was unable to access his paid Zoom account on May 22, prior to a live video call he hosted with fellow activist Jimmy Sham.
“My goal in opening a Zoom account is to contact mainland China, breaking the censorship of the Chinese Communist Party. With this Zoom policy, it beats my original goal … I asked Zoom to pay me back the remaining months of the subscription, “he said.
Zoom is headquartered in San Jose, California, but conducts much of its research and development in mainland China. The use of the virtual meeting app skyrocketed during the pandemic.
When asked about a regular briefing on Thursday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said she was unaware of any issues with Zoom.
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