Jun 11, 2020 - World

Zoom confirms Beijing asked it to suspend activists over Tiananmen Square meetings

Cell phone showing Tiananmen square
A man displays an image of the Tiananmen crackdown during a vigil remembrance in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Photo: Miguel Candela/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

U.S. video conferencing company Zoom issued a statement on Thursday acknowledging that the Chinese government requested that it suspend the accounts of several U.S.- and Hong Kong-based Chinese activists for holding events commemorating the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

The big picture: Zoom claims that it only took action because the Chinese government informed the company that "this activity is illegal in China" and that meeting metadata showed "a significant number of mainland China participants." Zoom said it does not have the ability to block participants from a certain country, and so it made the decision to end some of the meetings and suspend the host accounts.

  • The statement from the company comes one day after Axios revealed the suspensions, prompting widespread backlash from lawmakers and human rights activists.
  • Zoom has faced growing scrutiny over security concerns and its ties to China. China forbids free discussion of the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement.

What they're saying:

"We strive to limit actions taken to only those necessary to comply with local laws. Our response should not have impacted users outside of mainland China. We made two mistakes:
We suspended or terminated the host accounts, one in Hong Kong SAR and two in the U.S. We have reinstated these three host accounts. 
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."
— Zoom blog

What's next: Zoom said that it will no longer allow requests from the Chinese government to impact anyone outside of mainland China, and that it is working on technology that will allow it to remove or block participants based on geography.

The bottom line: The statement indicates that Zoom is agreeing to China's demands to construct an in-company censorship apparatus to prevent mainland users from accessing sensitive meetings.

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