Videoconferencing giant Zoom’s pledge to work with law enforcement spurs online blowback
- The remarks by Zoom chief executive Eric Yuan struck thousands of people on social media as tone-deaf amid recent marches against police brutality
- Yuan sought to assuage users’ concerns on Wednesday, saying the company was striving to ‘do the right thing’ for vulnerable groups
Zoom Video Communications chief executive Eric Yuan’s comments that the company would work with law enforcement by not encrypting free calls using the popular videoconferencing service hit a nerve with some users, drawing criticism amid nationwide protests about the role of police in the US.
Yuan, in a conference call on Tuesday, said Zoom’s efforts to provide the highest standard of digital security, called end-to-end encryption, would go to paying customers rather than the millions of people who use the app without charge for yoga classes, weddings, religious services and other social and business gatherings.
“Free users, for sure, we don’t want to give that because we also want to work together with the FBI, with local law enforcement, in case some people use Zoom for the bad purpose,” said Yuan, also the company’s founder.
a Minneapolis police officer who pinned his knee to Floyd’s neck in a video widely shared online.
Protesters in the US demand justice for the death of George Floyd after fatal arrest
Some Zoom users vowed to dump the service and switch to competitors. Even some paying customers said they had cancelled subscriptions for the company’s app.
The Nasdaq-listed software maker reported soaring revenue and profit on Tuesday, cementing itself as one of the key beneficiaries of the coronavirus era, when millions of people have used Zoom to remotely work, learn and keep in touch with loved ones. The stock jumped 7.6 per cent to a record US$223.87 at Wednesday’s close, and has more than tripled this year.
End-to-end encryption makes it impossible for third parties to decipher communications. While Zoom used to claim that its video calls featured that level of security, in fact, all calls have a lower level of encryption.
Yuan sought to assuage users’ concerns on Wednesday in his weekly webinar, saying the company was striving to “do the right thing” for vulnerable groups, including children and hate-crime victims, whose abuse is sometimes broadcast through Zoom’s platform.
“We plan to provide end-to-end encryption to users for whom we can verify identity, thereby limiting harm to vulnerable groups,” he said. “I wanted to clarify that Zoom does not monitor meeting content. We do not have back doors where participants, including Zoom employees or law enforcement, can enter meetings without being visible to others. None of this will change.”
Days before his comments on working with law enforcement, Yuan publicly shared a letter he wrote to employees about the grievances that spurred the recent demonstrations, including “racism, injustice and violence”.
During his Wednesday webinar, he echoed his support for the black community.
“We will also assess how best to philanthropically contribute to support some of the external partners who are on the front lines tackling social and racial justice,” he said.