Zoom’s China problem may prove to be its Achilles heel

Linda J. Dodson

Ironically, his favourite book, The Speed of Trust, has informed his leadership at Zoom: “You need to work to establish that trust.”

Yet the company is acutely aware of how its links to China might come back to bite it. After several blogs in which Zoom thanked cyber researchers who poked holes in its products, it is now aggressively responding to any claims that it has become a tool for espionage.

In February, Zoom warned investors that its more than 700 research and development workers in China may expose the company to market scrutiny regarding “the integrity of our solution or data security features”.

Zoom has 2,532 employees, including 1,396 in the US. Its operations in China, where intellectual property is loosely governed, might affect its future, it said.

Perhaps most concerning was the risk of “foreign government interference” with the software developed by its Chinese staff. The $41bn (£33bn) business finds itself in good company. Microsoft and Apple also have a workforce living in China on on their books, yet have escaped similar scrutiny.

Circling like hawks, it is competitors that might leverage any confusion over Zoom’s origins. “I think a competitor may have been the source of some of these stories. You see this a lot in technology; rivals leak stuff to hurt them,” says Jim Lewis, a senior vice-president at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington DC think-tank.

Lewis dismisses the charges as “silly”, particularly the idea that employees in China will be deliberately designing vulnerable software at the behest of the Chinese government. “People who think that if they don’t use Zoom it will keep them more secure are deluded,” he says.

Now that it has become the place to be for weddings, living room raves and Boris Johnson’s Cabinet Office briefings, Zoom has been opened up to more media and regulatory scrutiny. Comparably, a security vulnerability discovered on Microsoft Teams, which hosts 200 million daily participants, was revealed last week to little fanfare.

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