Has Zoom become a Trojan horse for China’s regime? More than two months after the FBI began issuing warnings about security risks with Zoom, the company now admits that it intentionally disrupted “a few recent meetings” involving critics of China. The news affirms earlier suspicions that the popular video-conferencing platform might have been co-opted by the Xi Jinping regime in Beijing:
Several prominent critics of the Chinese government, including protest leaders in Hong Kong and pro-democracy activists in the United States, have accused Zoom of shutting their accounts and severing live events in recent weeks under pressure from Beijing.
The three incidents are reviving concerns about the fast-growing Silicon Valley company’s susceptibility to Chinese government influence weeks after the firm began facing scrutiny over security, including its routing of data through China. Coming in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the episode also highlights the world’s dependency on services such as Zoom and their ability to control speech.
Zoom on Thursday acknowledged that “a few recent meetings” related to China have been disrupted.
In each instance, event organizers told The Washington Post that they relied on Zoom in lieu of in-person events because of social distancing and travel restrictions. And each of the Zoom accounts and events was created and hosted outside mainland China but appeared to be quashed under Chinese government pressure after they were publicly advertised.
The fact that Zoom admitted to this is fascinating enough. At the beginning of April, when the FBI sent up warnings about pornographic Zoom-bombing, the Pentagon raised the potential threat that China might be exploiting the platform for its own ends. The DoD banned its use among the services and military contractors, but others “fact checked” the idea that China was using the platform to spy on Americans and found the claim “mostly false.” Zoom announced new options for users to route their data around China in order to allay those fears.
Now it seems that those fact-checks blew it. Two users impacted by Zoom’s disruptions live and work in the US, where they tried to set up meetings to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre:
In the first week of June, Zoom also shut down a private account of Zhou Fengsuo, a California-based Chinese dissident, days after he hosted a videoconference commemorating Beijing’s bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, according to Zhou.
And on June 3, a separate Tiananmen commemoration was severed after the Zoom account that hosted it was deactivated midstream. The live event that began with 200 participants suffered two disruptions that “practically destroyed it,” said one of the organizers, former Tiananmen student protest leader Wang Dan, who is based in Washington.
That looks pretty suspiciously like China using Zoom to spy on Americans, doesn’t it? Perhaps PolitiFact ought to rethink its approach to these questions in the future.
Speaking of questions, Sen. Marco Rubio — now the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee — has a few for Zoom:
Perhaps we ought to also ask just how reliable those options for routing meetings actually are. I’d bet that the two US-based dissidents probably took care to keep the meetings from routing through China, and yet they got noticed anyway. The rest of Zoom’s customers might want to take note of that, or at least those customers that stay with the platform after this.