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Zoom founder Eric Yuan rings the Nasdaq opening bell. Photo: Kena Betancur/Getty Images

The U.S. video-conferencing company Zoom closed the account of a group of prominent U.S.-based Chinese activists after they held a Zoom event commemorating the 31st anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square Massacre, Axios has learned.

  • Why it matters: Zoom has faced growing scrutiny over security concerns and its ties to China.

Update: A Zoom spokesperson confirmed to Axios that the account had been closed "to comply with local law" and said it had now been re-activated.

“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.”
— Zoom statement

Between the lines: This suggests Zoom closed the account due to concerns in China, which forbids free discussion of the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement.

Details: Zhou Fengsuo, founder of the U.S. nonprofit Humanitarian China and former student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen protests, organized the May 31 event held through a paid Zoom account associated with Humanitarian China.

  • About 250 people attended the event. Speakers included mothers of students killed during the 1989 crackdown, organizers of Hong Kong's Tiananmen candlelight vigil, and others.
  • On June 7th, the Zoom account displayed a message that it had been shut down, in a screenshot viewed by Axios. Zhou has not been able to access the account since then, and Zoom has not responded to his emails, he told Axios.
  • A second Zoom account belonging to a pro-democracy activist, Lee Cheuk Yan, a former Hong Kong politician and pro-democracy activist, was also closed in late May. Lee has also received no response from Zoom.

What they're saying: "We are outraged by this act from Zoom, a U.S company," Zhou and other organizers told Axios in a statement. "As the most commercially popular meeting software worldwide, Zoom is essential as an unbanned outreach to Chinese audiences remembering and commemorating Tiananmen Massacre during the coronavirus pandemic."

Background: Chinese pro-democracy activists and dissidents face harassment and surveillance even beyond China's borders. U.S. companies with a presence in China have also faced scrutiny for their handling of content deemed sensitive by Chinese authorities.

  • In 2019, LinkedIn blocked Zhou's account from being visible in China, telling him in a message it was because of "specific content on your profile." LinkedIn restored his account after media attention.

Zoom has skyrocketed to global prominence during the coronavirus epidemic, going from 10 million users to over 300 million in a matter of months. Its meteoric rise has brought increased scrutiny to its ties to China.

  • The company has acknowledged that much of its product development has been based in China, and that some Zoom calls were accidentally routed through Chinese servers.
  • The University of Toronto's Citizen Lab said it found serious concerns over Zoom's security protocols, and said the company's large workforce in China could make it "responsive to pressure from Chinese authorities."
  • The government of Taiwan banned official use of Zoom due to security concerns, and schools in New York State, the U.S. Senate, and the German ministry of foreign affairs have discouraged or restricted its use.
  • Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said in early June that the company has chosen not to end-to-end encrypt free calls in order to cooperate with law enforcement.

What to watch: In May, Zoom announced that it would no longer provide free accounts to China-based users, citing "regulatory requirements." The company continues to sell paid accounts in China.

Go deeper: China’s spy agencies are coming to Hong Kong

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a response from Zoom and to clarify that Zoom does encrypt free calls, but not end-to-end.

Go deeper

Chinese hacking group moves on from targeting COVID intelligence

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A Chinese government-associated hacking group that shifted its focus this spring toward collecting intelligence involving coronavirus response has again reoriented its work, this time to target Tibetan dissidents, according to security firm Proofpoint.

Between the lines: China’s intelligence services may now feel that, with the initial COVID-19 crisis in both Europe and China now receding, they can return to older, core priorities.

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The United States reported 88,452 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, setting a single-day record, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project.

The big picture: The country confirmed 1,049 additional deaths due to the virus, and there are over 46,000 people currently being hospitalized, suggesting the U.S. is experiencing a third wave heading into the winter months.

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