- Zoom will allow governments to request account removal in an upcoming technology.
- Zoom could suspend or remove accounts locally on government request.
- This will mean a lot of things of current Zoom users.
Zoom's efforts to curtail the backlash it has been facing ever since it rose to fame have mostly been futile. The video conferencing app found itself in hot water after it heeded Beijing to suspend the accounts of three users who participated in the pro-democratic demonstrations to commemorate the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989. Zoom later reinstated those accounts but it had already irked one too many users, and, obviously, the US government since two of the users whose accounts were suspended were from the US. The course of actions Zoom followed could not cover up its mistake but the company is making "significant" changes to its platform.
Soon after the whole series of events came to a halt, Zoom announced it is working on a new technology that will allow it to suspend, or even remove, accounts of users on the request of local government. This means if you are deemed unfit for the Zoom platform by your country's government, Zoom can suspend or delete your account for usage within the country but you will be able to use your account outside of your country. The technology, which is expected to roll over several days aligns with what Beijing wants from Zoom, and many other companies, for that matter.
If you are a Zoom user, this could mean several things for you, especially if you are living in a country where the online presence of citizens is heavily censored.
First, your privacy could be in jeopardy since the government can request the removal of your account only when it knows what you are sharing via video meetings. Zoom may have to hand over the contents of the video meetings as per the government's request, which will enable the government to take any action against your account. Zoom has iterated the video meetings taking place on the platform are protected by the 256-bit GCM encryption. The platform has faced flak for not complying with the end-to-end (E2E) encryption so far, but Zoom has said it is working towards implementing it. Till then, the data is available to Zoom to retain, process, and even share with the authorities as and when needed.
Second, Zoom will have the right to suspend or remove your account even if your video meetings could be to start yet. The recent case included the removal of three accounts, two of which belonged to users residing in the US and one belonged to Hong Kong. According to reports, the account of one of the two US-based users was suspended days after the commemoration while the other user in the US saw the video meeting cut off midstream. The Hong Kong-based user could never start the scheduled video meeting because his account was suspended too. All three users took part in the protest against the Tiananmen Square crackdown back in 1989. In the third case, the Chinese government urged Zoom to suspend the user's account even before any content was shared, which might have violated the Terms of Service of Zoom.
Third, your freedom to share ideas on the Internet will be snatched arbitrarily. Although Zoom has emphasised in the blog post that the company is committed "to being a platform for an open exchange of ideas and conversations", yet its upcoming technology would allow censorship of user data and their accounts to comply with state demands. Zoom snatched the freedom of two US-based and one Hong Kong-based users recently on Beijing's request. This meant that irrespective of the user's geography, Zoom took the call and suspended the accounts of two US-based users on the request of the Chinese government. While the latest update will circumvent Zoom's mistake, it will still allow the local government to filter out everything that goes out of the borders via Zoom meetings.
Zoom may have become famous overnight but it is difficult to live up to the fame. The company may have curbed the control of the Chinese government on users outside of its reign, but it is, at the same time, giving control to each government who can ask for user data any time and get accounts suspended when necessary. Now, it is up to Zoom to decide what next steps it has to take to rein that in.