On Thursday, June 11, our video conferencing competitor, Zoom, openly acknowledged it acted at the behest of the Chinese government in not only censoring the speech, but also terminating the accounts, of multiple people living and acting within the laws of the United States. According to multiple media reports, this exercise of free speech was offensive to Chinese government officials and Zoom complied with their resulting demands.
In an article published on June 13, The Washington Post editorial board summarized the situation by saying, “[Chinese] President Xi Jinping has been so successful in squelching expression within China that he now has nowhere to go but outward: stretching his country’s censorious arm across oceans as if the whole world were his autocracy. Zoom’s recent shutdowns of the accounts of several critics of the Chinese government are one egregious example.”
After news of the account terminations was made public, many across our industry — as well as several elected officials — asked a reasonable question: What leverage did the Chinese government have over Zoom in making this demand?
While many tech companies have found ways to successfully and responsibly operate in China — see Apple, Microsoft and Salesforce (via Alibaba), to name a few — the considerations and tradeoffs required by businesses to navigate the country’s restrictive laws governing free speech and digital communication are well understood. Zoom should be no exception, but perhaps the allure of the sizable Chinese market is too great. Regardless of the reason, thus far the company has purposefully chosen to play by the rules of the Chinese government, at the expense of its customers.
Business Decisions and Blocking Users
Responding to media inquiries, Zoom’s stated reason for shutting down U.S.-based accounts was, “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.”
In a subsequent blog post, Zoom admitted that it improperly shut down two accounts of hosts based in the U.S. and one based in Hong Kong but, moving forward, intends to “develop technology over the next several days that will enable us to remove or block at the participant level based on geography.”
If a company has made the distinct decision to do business in China, it’s reasonable for customers to expect it would already have technology mechanisms in place to comply with these “applicable laws,” without having to overreach or apply the same standard to other international users and meetings to which the laws do not apply.
Let Information Flow Freely, Privately and Securely
Given this questionable behavior by a direct competitor and industry contemporary, I wanted to take a moment to restate for customers our company’s policy on account intervention, as well as our commitment to supporting the free flow of information and ensuring customer privacy and security.
First, Lifesize would never intervene to terminate a customer’s account without a lawful order that applies to the jurisdiction in which a customer resides or uses our service. Additionally, we do not operate our service within China because of the untenable tradeoffs currently required to do so.
Third, the security of our platform to prevent intrusion or data loss is of utmost importance to us, which is why we have built security into our products from the ground up. Earlier this month, we announced the industry’s first end-to-end encryption solution for all meetings on the Lifesize cloud service, including those where a subset of, or all, participants join using Lifesize’s family of 4K meeting room systems. Once fully implemented, all Lifesize customers — whether on a paid subscription or free plan — will be able to choose whether to encrypt their video meetings end to end, including group calls.
Lastly, we are not in the business of monetizing customer data through third parties to drive advertising revenue. Selling customer data is antithetical to our company mission, which is focused solely on delivering immersive customer experiences anywhere, from any device. We are committed to earning your business, not selling your data.
Amid the uncertainty related to the global pandemic and more recent social unrest, individuals and organizations need to be able to trust that they can communicate with each other freely, now more than ever. I want all of our customers and partners around the world to know that Lifesize takes your privacy, data security and right to communicate very seriously and would never make any compromises, take shortcuts or sacrifice our values in the name of business growth and financial success.
As summed up succinctly by The Washington Post:
“This, of course, is the core concern — that any U.S. company that seeks to operate in China won’t be allowed to do so according to U.S. values. ‘It is not in Zoom’s power,’ the Zoom spokesman also told The Post, ‘to change the laws of governments opposed to free speech.’ It is within Zoom’s power, however, to decide whether it will obey.”