Zoom blocking feature will allow China to censor individual users

The video conferencing platform has faced criticism for suspending activists' accounts

Zoom is developing technology which will make it possible to block users based on their geographical location, the company has confirmed.

The firm will also implement changes to its global policy in order to facilitate requests from governmental authorities asking to suspend meetings when they are deemed “illegal within their borders".

The announcement comes after the video conferencing platform recently suspended three user accounts at the request of the Chinese government. The users, based in Hong Kong and the US, were hosting meetings to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, discussion of which is banned by the ruling Communist Party of China.

Zoom’s actions were met with criticism from pro-democracy supporters and raised questions about the company’s ties with the Chinese government. One of the activists suspended by Zoom, Wang Dan, told the Financial Times that “companies with a conscience should not accept requests from dictatorships”.

“As an American company, Zoom has the responsibility to defend American values,” added Wang, who was one of the most visible student leaders at the 1989 protests.

Zoom addressed the media coverage in a blog post, stating that the accounts belonging to Wang Dan, as well as activists Lee Cheuk-yan and Zhou Fengsuo, had since been reinstated. 

“Going forward, we will have a new process for handling similar situations,” the company said, adding that it will “not allow requests from the Chinese government to impact anyone outside of mainland China”.

Lee Cheuk-yan called Zoom’s response “shameful”.

“My purpose on opening Zoom is to reach out to mainland Chinese, breaking the censorship of the Chinese Communist party,” the Hong Kong-based politician and social activist told The Guardian. “With this policy it defeats my original purpose.”

Zoom defended its decision, saying that it has to comply “with local laws”, while it “seeks to promote the open exchange of ideas”. 

“We hope that one day, governments who build barriers to disconnect their people from the world and each other will recognize that they are acting against their own interests, as well as the rights of their citizens and all humanity,” it said, vowing to improve their global policy and outline it in a transparency report, which is to be published by the end of the month.

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