Popular video-conferencing app Zoom has suspended individual users in China from hosting meetings on the platform. One of the company’s Chinese resellers announced the changes earlier this month.

Why it matters: US-based Zoom has become one of the most popular choices for Chinese business professionals working from home to host meetings amid the Covid-19 pandemic. It is also widely used by individuals to host webinars and give online courses.

  • The app has placed between fourth to seventh in the rankings of Apple’s iPhone App Store’s business category in China from since mid-February, according to app intelligence firm Sensor Tower.
  • The restrictions on individual users come as China is set to hold an annual meeting of its congress, the country’s most important political event, later this month. The gathering is usually accompanied by a rise in internet controls and restrictions.

Details: Zoom has suspended free users in China from hosting meetings starting from May 1. Individuals are no longer allowed to purchase its services, said Shanghai Donghan Telecommunications, one of Zoom’s Chinese partners which runs the website zoom.com.cn.

  • The Shanghai-based company said it has suspended all new user registrations on the website. Businesses need to contact their sales representatives to buy licenses for the service.
  • A woman answering a call at Shanghai Donghan’s office said the restrictions on individual registrations are due to “regulatory requirements,” but she refused to give further details.
  • She said that companies will have to provide a business license issued by Chinese market regulators to purchase services from the company. Fees can only be transferred from a corporate bank account.
  • Free users, either individual or corporate, are able to join meetings, the company said on the website.
  • Shanghai Huawan Telecommunications, another Chinese partner of Zoom which runs the website Zoomvideo.cn, only allows corporate users to register and purchase services, but it doesn’t inspect users’ corporate information before purchases were made, according to TechNode’s review.
  • It is unknown if Zoom’s US headquarters made the decisions. The company didn’t immediately reply to an email requesting comments.

Context: Chinese users of Zoom began to switch to localized versions of the app, including those provided by Shanghai Donghan and Shanghai Huawan in September after the service was blocked in the country in the same month.

  • Zoom is also facing scrutiny in overseas markets because of its reliance on China for product development. The company, founded by Chinese immigrant Eric Yuan, has had part of its product development team based in China since it was founded in 2011.
  • The company admitted in April that some users “mistakenly” had their calls routed through data centers in China, resulting in a backlash from foreign government agencies and companies that fears their meetings might become vulnerable to Chinese surveillance.

Writing about semiconductors and telecommunications.