FPI / June 15, 2020
Commentary by Jason Orestes
Zoom Video has seen an absolutely meteoric ascension this year. State-mandated business closures and coronavirus panic have forced many to conduct business via digital meetings, and Zoom has been a massive beneficiary.
It reported arguably one of the greatest quarterly earnings ever recently, seeing its users go from 10 million to 300 million.
But as Zoom grows from a relatively niche business to a major tech company, it’s following the same troubling trajectory of many large tech firms: censorious behavior and kowtowing to China.
Zoom is coming under fire for deactivating U.S. accounts after China demanded they be censored for discussing the Tiananmen Square massacre with Chinese-based users.
Zoom said it did so to comply with “local laws”, since the meetings were attended by Chinese users that fell under Beijing’s jurisdiction.
Put simply: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) told Zoom to close the account of U.S. users who talked with people in China about a forbidden subject, and Zoom actually did it.
Zoom has offered some adorable excuses for a tech company currently worth over $60 billion dollars, like quite literally claiming it doesn’t have the ability to block users based on geographic location. So because it “couldn’t” tell the difference from a U.S. or China-based one, it just played it safe with the CCP and closed them all. It’s since reinstated the suspended U.S. accounts and said it was a mistake.
This is dishonest. Zoom prostrated itself to China, pretended it didn’t have the ability to do otherwise, and now that it was caught the apology tour is underway.
Republican lawmakers are seeking answers. A trio of GOP congressional lawmakers on Thursday wrote to Zoom, asking for clarification on its deference to China. This amounts to a second strike of sorts for Zoom, who only a couple months ago was caught “mistakenly” routing calls of non-Chinese users through Chinese data centers; something it blamed on a load-balancing issue when call volumes are high. This is disallowed due to privacy issues, as China has little regard for privacy laws and could demand the decryption of encrypted calls.
A third of Zoom’s developers are located in China, and Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, summed it up well in a letter to Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan, who was born in China: “I reiterate today that it is time for you to pick a side: American principles and free-speech, or short-term global profits and censorship.”
Zoom has said it will continue to comply with CCP requests within China, meaning we know the answer to Sen. Hawley’s ultimatum. This follows a sad anti-American trend of many of our greatest technology companies debasing themselves to gain access to the Communist marketplace, forever cowardly hiding behind the banner of “we’re just enforcing local law”.
LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, censored the same Tiananmen activist as Zoom, Zhou Fengsuo, back in 2019. After providing the whole “local law” excuse song and dance, it eventually capitulated and restored the account and pretended it had been “blocked in error”.
In 2004, Chinese journalist Shi Tao anonymously leaked a document with CCP censorship instructions. Yahoo then provided the Chinese government with evidence that Shi had sent it; he was then sentenced to 10 years in prison on account of Yahoo’s treacherous behavior. Yahoo was later sued by another political dissident, Wang Xiaoning, who accused Yahoo of helping the CCP target and torture those that opposed them.
Google is perhaps the worst of them all. Not only did it have plans to launch a CCP-approved search engine that would help the Chinese government surveil its citizens (backlash forced them to stop), it essentially commits what could be considered treasonous behavior with its AI operations.
Google nixed its AI military contract with the CIA in 2017, however it has an AI lab in Beijing. While this lab isn’t explicitly for military use, any technology developed or used in China is subject to seizure by the People’s Liberation Army essentially at will. Google knows this technology could easily be weaponized by the CCP, yet it continues to happily operate in a egregiously authoritarian state, and enemy of the U.S., while simultaneously shunning the American government. Peter Thiel has sounded the alarm on this behavior, and has called for the CIA and FBI to investigate what could actually be deemed treasonous actions.
A commitment to liberty and American ideals used to go without saying for U.S. industry, now it appears to be more an inconvenience and barrier to business. The modern U.S. tech corporate slogan: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”
Jason Orestes (@market_noises) is a former Wall Street financial analyst who focuses on contemporary political developments affecting economics, markets, and culture. His commentary can be found on Washington Examiner, TheStreet, MSN Money, RealClearMarkets, and RealClearPolitics.
FPI, Free Press International