Civil liberties are most fragile during times of crisis. As conflict the world over has shown, digital communications infrastructures can easily be used to censor, to silence, to monitor, and ultimately to sanction.
In China, WeChat and Weibo are extremely popular. China introduced new laws and hired hundreds of people to monitor content on these platforms, forcing netizens to be vigilant and to self-censor. The Chinese government claims that monitoring cyberspace betters society, but many believe that the authorities have an ulterior motive: suppressing alternative views and dissent in public and in private.
With the coronavirus pandemic, people have turned to social media to stay in touch and to stave off boredom. Facebook, FaceTime, and WhatsApp were obvious choices, but the less well-known video-conferencing platform Zoom has been stealing the limelight.
A simple matter of hooking up with friends and relations, you might think. However, as Arwa Mahdawi pointed out in “Do you know how Zoom is using your data? Here’s why you should” (The Guardian, 1 April 2020), nothing is straightforward when it comes to digital:
Zoom was quick to respond, updating its software to stop sending iOS data to Facebook.
Zoom founder Eric Yuan wrote in a blogpost, “Our customers’ privacy is incredibly important to us, and therefore we decided to remove the Facebook SDK in our iOS client and have reconfigured the feature so that users will still be able to log in with Facebook via their browser.” He commented that SDK was “collecting device information unnecessary for us to provide our services."
Given the state of denial by many in the social media industry and the huge amount of legislation being introduced in several countries, notably in the European Union, it is heartening to see Zoom react swiftly and decisively to what is an obvious violation of digital communication rights.
Let’s hope all digital platform operators will emulate Zoom’s exemplary response by rectifying similar covert practices before they are caught out – yet again!
Photo above: Fizkes/Shutterstock