Zoom’s stunning year, riding on the back of the COVID-19 exodus to the world’s kitchen tables and spare bedrooms, has seen Zoom earnings skyrocket. Yet amid the eye boggling $67bn valuation this hugely successful company now sits at a crossroads.
Zoom’s founder, Eric Yuan an American citizen, has his roots in the Middle Kingdom of China. And to US lawmakers the firm may be called on to take sides on the subject that defines the two cultures; privacy.
What’s the problem with Zoom?
In June last year for instance, Zoom said it was introducing end-to-end encryption and insists there isn’t a backdoor to its service. However, spooks have warned the UK government to be circumspect when discussing sensitive matters through the service.
Last year the firm temporarily blocked an activist’s account in Hong Kong and admits it went too far and now says it is developing tools to tackle the problem. The firm also pledges that requests from the Chinese government will no longer affect anyone outside mainland China.
That is a hard promise to keep for any company with operations in China. American values of free speech are at odds with those of a Chinese state. Those with a lot of Chinese customers and operations, such as Apple, seek to obey Chinese rules, but only in China.
Why does Zoom ownership affect me?
Zoom is different. It cannot easily fence off its Chinese operations from the rest of the world because its Chinese product developers are integral to its global business.
China hawks in America’s Congress are demanding that the company answer questions about its relationship with the Chinese government. College professors claim Chinese students stuck at home because of Covid travel restrictions may be at risk at using the platform.
Perhaps this is overplaying the importance of the platform (there are alternatives such as Teams) but underlines the sensitivities of US and UK lawmakers to China’s rising power.
Expect the culture wars to continue with the consequence that firm bosses should have a plan or an alternative if they want to engage with Chinese tech companies.