SHANGHAI • Three US lawmakers asked Zoom Video Communications to clarify its data-collection practices and relationship with the Chinese government after the firm said it had suspended user accounts to meet demands from Beijing.
The California-based firm has come under heavy scrutiny after three US-and Hong Kong-based activists said their accounts had been suspended and meetings disrupted, after they tried to hold events related to the anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Zoom said yesterday that it was notified of the events and asked to take action by the Chinese government last month and early this month. It said it has now reinstated these accounts and will not allow further requests from China to affect users outside the country.
“We did not provide any user information or meeting content to the Chinese government,” Zoom said in a statement. “We do not have a backdoor that allows someone to enter a meeting without being visible.”
The online meeting platform, which has surged in popularity as the Covid-19 pandemic has forced millions around the world indoors, has seen its downloads soar in China. The service is not blocked there, unlike many Western platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, which abandoned efforts to crack China’s market years ago owing to government demands to censor and monitor content.
Twitter on Thursday said it had removed accounts tied to a Beijing-backed influence operation.
Representatives Greg Walden, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the ranking member of a consumer sub-committee, sent a letter to Zoom chief executive Eric Yuan on Thursday, asking him to clarify the company’s data practices, whether any data was shared with Beijing and whether it encrypted users’ communications.
Republican Senator Josh Hawley also wrote to Mr Yuan, asking him to “pick a side” between the United States and China.
The three politicians had previously expressed concerns about TikTok’s owner, Chinese firm ByteDance, which is being scrutinised by US regulators over the personal data that the short video app handles.
“We appreciate the outreach we have received from various elected officials and look forward to engaging with them,” a Zoom spokesman said.
PRIVACY NOT COMPROMISED
We did not provide any user information or meeting content to the Chinese government. We do not have a backdoor that allows someone to enter a meeting without being visible.
ZOOM, on its suspension of user accounts.
China’s Internet watchdog, the Cyberspace Administration of China, did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
Mr Wang Dan, a US-based dissident and exiled student leader of the crushed 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, had his Zoom account suspended. He said he was shocked to hear Zoom acknowledge that it had interrupted meetings he was participating in. His June 3 event with about 200 participants was deactivated midstream, he said.
“Zoom complied with China’s request, preventing us from going about our lives smoothly,” Mr Wang said. “It cannot get away with just a statement. We shall continue to use legal means and public opinion to ask Zoom to take responsibility for its mistake.”