Zoom says "we fell short" in explanation over banning of pro-Chinese democracy accounts

Zoom on a Mac
Zoom on a Mac (Image credit: Zoom)

What you need to know

  • Zoom has offered an explanation for the banning of accounts at the behest of the Chinese government.
  • Chinese authorities demanded action over Zoom meetings commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
  • It says that going forward, it won't let Chinese government requests impact anyone outside of mainland China.

Zoom has come forward with an explanation following outrage at the banning of the Zoom accounts of pro-Chinese democracy activists who were holding a meeting to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Earlier this week it emerged that Zoom had banned some accounts at the behest of the Chinese government, before reactivating them. In that report, Zoom stated:

"Just like any global company, we must comply with applicable laws in the jurisdictions where we operate. When a meeting is held across different countries, the participants within those countries are required to comply with their respective local laws. We aim to limit the actions we take to those necessary to comply with local law and continuously review and improve our process on these matters. We have reactivated the US-based account."

The accounts were reportedly closed after a Zoom meeting was held to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4. Now Zoom has explained its actions:

We hope that one day, governments who build barriers to disconnect their people from the world and each other will recognize that they are acting against their own interests, as well as the rights of their citizens and all humanity. The reality is Zoom operates in more than 80 countries and continues to expand, which requires compliance with local laws even as Zoom seeks to promote the open exchange of ideas.Recent articles in the media about adverse actions we took toward Lee Cheuk-yan, Wang Dan, and Zhou Fengsuo have some calling into question our commitment to being a platform for an open exchange of ideas and conversations. To be clear, their accounts have been reinstated, and going forward, we will have a new process for handling similar situations.We will do better as we strive to make Zoom the most secure and trusted way to bring people together.

Zoom says that it was informed by the Chinese government of four "large, public June 4th commemoration meetings on Zoom that were being publicized on social media, including meeting details." Illegal in China, the government reportedly demanded "Zoom terminate the meetings and host accounts."

Zoom further clarified that it did not give over any information to the Chinese government, nor did it have any kind of access to the meetings. It also says that it did not take action against one meeting because no participants were in mainland China.

In 2 of the meetings, Zoom reviewed metadata whilst the meeting was in progress to confirm that "a significant number" of participants came from mainland China. In the fourth meeting, the Chinese government showed Zoom a social media invite to a meeting, and a prior meeting from the same account that it considered to be illegal.

Zoom says that it took the decision to end three of the four meetings and suspend or terminate the three host accounts of these meetings because it "does not currently have the ability to remove specific participants from a meeting or block participants from a certain country from joining a meeting."

Zoom seems at least aware that it fell short, saying it was mistaken in suspending or terminating the host accounts (one from Hong Kong, two from the U.S.). Zoom also says that it was wrong to close down the whole meetings, and should have blocked participants by country, something it isn't currently able to do.

Going forward, Zoom says it won't allow "requests from the Chinese government to impact anyone outside of mainland China." It is also developing technology over the next several days to allow removal or blocking of participants to calls based on their geography, allowing Zoom to ban people from meetings based on where they live, whilst protecting the conversations they are participating in.

Stephen Warwick