The geopolitical battle for the soul of the internet took another turn with the news that Zoom suspended the account of US-based Chinese activists.
The group in question is called Humanitarian China, which recently published a press release entitled “Humanitarian China’s Zoom account shut down after conference commemorating 31st anniversary of Tiananmen Massacre”. While the commemoration was on 31 May, the group’s account was suspended on 7 June with no explanation.
“It seems possible Zoom acted on pressure from the CCP to shut down our account,” said the press release. “If so, Zoom is complicit in erasing the memories of the Tiananmen Massacre in collaboration with an authoritarian government. Humanitarian China demands an explanation of why our account was shut down, we will pursue other channels to protect our rights.”
It seems the account was subsequently restored, with Zoom giving Axios the following statement: “Just like any global company, 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. We aim to limit the actions we take to those necessary to comply with local law and continuously review and improve our process on these matters. We have reactivated the US-based account.”
It remains unclear which laws were violated, and when, but suspending a US account for violating Chinese laws can’t be right, surely. It looks like this isn’t the first time Zoom has done such a thing, with the WaPo noting at least a couple more (its paywall won’t even let us open the URL, so no hyperlink) suspensions, with the sinister hand of the CCP suspected.
Meanwhile the European Union seems to be getting increasingly nervous about Chinese social video app TikTok, which is especially popular among exhibitionist youths. After data privacy alarm bells were rung by the Dutch last month, one of the EU’s countless bureaucracies decided to spring into action and give it a look.
“During its 31st plenary session, the EDPB (European Data Protection Board) decided to establish a taskforce to coordinate potential actions and to acquire a more comprehensive overview of TikTok’s processing and practices across the EU,” said the announcement. That’s the kind of lightning response we’ve come to expect from the EU, which should begin ensuring the digital safety of the continent’s children some time in the next decade.
These developments illustrate that a major front in the growing tech war between China and the West, on top of networks and semiconductors, is the digital economy. If video conferencing services can’t find a way of operating in China without violating the rights of the rest of their customers then maybe they shouldn’t be there at all. Conversely Chinese-owned digital services such as TikTok will come under increasing pressure to prove they’re playing by international rules.