After the Indian government banned 59 apps owned by Chinese firms last week, the videoconferencing app Zoom is fighting xenophobic rumors on social media that it is Chinese-owned. It’s not — the company is American and is scrambling to let Indians know.
In a blog post on Tuesday, Velchamy Sankarlingam, Zoom’s president of product and engineering, tried to clear up misinformation about Zoom’s country of origin. The company, he reminded people, is based in the United States.
“We do recognize that as we continue to introduce ourselves to the Indian market, there has been some confusion about the facts as it relates to Zoom. Some of the misconceptions are disheartening, especially those about Zoom and China. Zoom has been clear about its identity: Zoom is a U.S. company, publicly traded on the NASDAQ, founded and headquartered in San Jose, California. And like many global technology companies, Zoom has offices in China operated by subsidiaries of the U.S. parent company.”
Sankarlingam’s post came days after India’s ban on apps from Chinese companies including TikTok, following border clashes between the countries. In the days preceding the ban, Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned instant messaging app that most Indians use, were filled with messages urging nationalistic Indians to uninstall apps owned by Chinese firms.
Some of these messages, however, incorrectly identified Zoom as a Chinese-owned app.
One of the forwards that went viral on WhatsApp was a list of 40 apps, which included Zoom. “China is earning crores of money per day by Above apps,” the message said, referring to an Indian unit of monetary measurement. “You should uninstall these Apps as soon as possible from your mobile & ask 10 friends and further their friends to do the same. Accept the Challenge! #Boycott China.”
Shortly after the ban, a glut of local competitors sprung up with their own versions of the restricted apps. Last week, India’s Jio Platforms, the country’s largest telecom company, rushed out its own videoconferencing app called JioMeet, which was criticized for being a Zoom rip-off.
Analysts say that Zoom was mistaken for a Chinese app because of the rapid spread of misinformation on social media, and also because its CEO Eric Yuan is Chinese American.
“The prevailing anti-China sentiments in the country and the reach of social media among India consumers formed a general perception that Zoom is a Chinese company,” said Prachir Singh, senior research analyst at market research firm Counterpoint. “The reason for Zoom’s clarifications about its origins is because it wants to expand its presence in India.”
It’s a perception that Zoom is aggressively trying to change.
“There has been significant misinformation and blatant inaccuracies circulating about Zoom with regards to China from various channels,” a Zoom spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “In India, we’ve been proud to help businesses, government agencies, communities, school teachers, and other users stay connected during this global health crisis.”
In the post written by Sankarlingam, who is Indian American, the company played up its “commitment to India” and talked about its Mumbai office as well as two Indian data centers. It also talked about its plans for investing in India over the next five years and hiring from the country.
“Three of Zoom’s top executives are of Indian descent,” Sankarlingam wrote.
In addition, the company bought promoted tweets on Twitter earlier this week to boost the reach of Sankarlingam’s post in India.
This isn’t the first time that Zoom has struggled with an identity crisis. After security researchers found that Zoom routed some calls on the platform through servers located in China in April, Yuan wrote a blog post underscoring both the company’s and his own American credentials.
“I would like to set the record straight here,” Yuan wrote. “I became an American citizen in July 2007. I have lived happily in America since 1997. Zoom is an American company, founded and headquartered in California, incorporated in Delaware, and publicly traded on NASDAQ (ZM).”