In the aftermath of the Chinese aggression, there is a small section of people in India who are trying to show their patriotism by trying to opposing the use of “Zoom” as the video conferencing application. As a person who had highlighted the “China Risk” decades back and expressed unhappiness with our IT Companies opening offices in China and transferring the IT knowledge to then not so knowledgeable Chinese, I would like to state that the current show of patriotism through “Zoom Bashing” is not warranted. In a way it is diverting attention from other actionable thoughts which would be more useful.
First of all I would like to state that Zoom is not a Chinese company since the revenue of Zoom is not going to China nor the Government of China has control over the company. It is a US company promoted and managed by a Chinese entrepreneur who is said to have become a US Citizen in 2007. (Refer here: Zoom CEO says Company is American). Today, an Indian may be a CEO of Google or Facebook but they are not considered as Indian Companies.
The security issues raised against Zoom have been addressed already and pointed out that there are no concerns left. (Refer here: When Zoom got Bombed) There have been many instances of US companies including the major companies where it is believed that they have systematically shared confidential customer data with the FBI or the US Government. In the Zoom case, people are wrongly assuming that the data of video conferences are being spied on by Chinese Government. This is not correct, While Zoom does maintain servers in China like in many other countries, there is an option to configure that the servers in China are not used by users.
Those who are opposing Zoom as a Chinese product are mislead by their business rivals who had lost their business. Even MHA issued its guidelines without properly assessing the issue under the possible influence of the business rivals of Zoom. We must call this bluff.
On the other hand where there is need for action is in the area of various computer supplies that are coming from China which include our mobile phones and computers. Most of the Chinese models have been suspected to have back doors for listening into the conversations or tapping into data or even immobilize the equipments. The recent seizure of mobiles with duplicate IMEI indicates that Chinese manufacturers deliberately duplicate IMEI numbers and vitiate the control systems which affect crime management. UK have once found Manchurian Chips in the POS machines supplied from China. We still use such POS machines even for Aadhaar based biometric connectivity. Even some mobiles assembled in India with the chips supplied by China may have similar risks
There have been instances of Chinese planting their people as spies in Indian companies who have diverted key information in projects to China. The work in China about Cyber warfare and in Quantum computing continues to be a threat in India. Indian Telecom industry is completely under the control of Chinese products which may be having a backdoor. When the Government of India set up a committee led by IISC, Bangalore for security certification of Chines equipments (under the previous UPA rule), the Government allowed Huawei to be the sponsor for the project, allowing them to influence the committee which as could be expected didnot do anything to secure the Indian interests.
Presently major mobile apps including Swiggy, Zomato, PayTm, Flipkart,Make My Trip etc have funding from China which provides access to the information. Major computers like Acer, Lenovo etc or mobiles including Oppo, Vivo, One Plus, Redmi, Xiomi etc are assembled and supplied from China. The manufacturing sector also has many products dumped in India from China. The dependency is today so high that any action to boycott China could boomerang on India and we have to do it with finesse not abrasively.
I would call upon the partriots who are opposing Zoom today to leave Zoom and try what we can do in the long term to reduce the dependence of China. Most of our small scale, Tiny scale industries were closed down because they were not competitive against Chinese imports. We therefore need to reintroduce our tariff barriers against China so that simple plastic products which involve no technology donot take away our precious foreign exchange. We need to ensure that every small product which we import from China today need to be identified for manufacturing in India. Governments both in the Center and the State has to focus on “Import Substitution for Chinese products” and initiate dialogue with entrepreneurs and create hundreds of small scale industries to substitute the Chinese products. We need to see industrial estates created for such import substitution the way “China market” is created for selling Chinese products.
Let’s therefore stop Zoom bashing and take up constructive projects for “Independence from China Products”. This will be a long drawn battle which will need at least 5 years to even see the effect. But this is required and will also improve our economy. People however have to be patient and wait for quality improvement and price reduction happening over time.
In the meantime we need to ensure that all products sold on Amazon or Flipkart carry the “Country of Origin” tag so that consumers can take their own decision whether to buy Chinese products or not.
A similar tag can also be placed on software products as an information to the buyers. But MHA or CERT In should do their homework properly and donot wrongly classify Zoom as a Chinese product because the CEO is a Chinese.
In manufactured products we can look at the Chinese economic content in the product to decide whether we should discourage the purchase. In the case of electronic product what is more important is whether the Chinese Government has control over the data processed by the equipments/software. So, for computer products, “Risk of China spying on data” should be recognized and flagged.
If activists focus on what can bring results in taming China, they will have to re-think their misplaced aggression on Zoom.