Zoom has issued an apology for complying with the demands of the Chinese government, after banning users, including two US-based accounts. Accusations of orders for silencing dissidents isn’t a new thing for the Chinese Communist Party, but Zoom’s initial compliance is noteworthy as a communications technology company. While Zoom has now admitted the mistake, that has come after reports of what was happening and Zoom’s involvement. Of course, Zoom has been no stranger to controversy in recent months.
Online memorials were due to take place on June 4 to honor that date. The apology doesn’t outline why China was adamant about those specific meetings, although it’s worth noting that on that date in 1989, the Tiananmen Square Massacre took place – an event that the government has been accused of trying to erase from memory before. This isn’t the first example of the country grappling for control of a narrative, and it is also not the first time that a tech company has had to explain its working relationship with China.
Four accounts involved in commemorative meetings were highlighted in Zoom’s apology. The only problem was, the hosts weren’t based in mainland China. Zoom explained in a blog post that two of the disabled accounts belonged to users residing in the United States, while a third was based in Hong Kong. The fourth account was not acted upon as the company concluded that no persons from mainland China would be in attendance. In contrast, the other three meetings were deemed to have China-based participants, and as the company cannot block individual users, or users from a specific country, it opted to shut the meetings down and ban the host accounts instead.
Since the event, the accounts that were disabled have been reactivated, and Zoom promises changes in the future. The company claims that requests from the Chinese government will only reach as far as the country’s borders and not affect people residing outside of mainland China. The tech company also pledged to develop the capability to block denizens based on geography to respect local laws, but not restrict the rights of people that reside in areas in which the activity is deemed legal. On June 30, Zoom says it will be updating its policies regarding requests from governments.
Based out of San Jose, California Zoom resides in a place that puts freedom of speech at the forefront of citizen rights. Yet, in a capitalist society, where a company has to stay competitive, the name of the game is often profit, and China is a highly sought-after market. While some organizations have tried to work around government restrictions, by choosing to comply with the demands of different governments, Zoom will have to tiptoe across contentious issues, while continuing to argue how the company supports the free exchange of ideas.
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