China’s Tencent Launches Free, International Version of Video Conferencing Tool, VooV, Amidst Coronavirus Pandemic; Tencent CEO a Proponent of China’s “Great Firewall”

On March 20, Chinese technology company, Tencent, launched an international version of its video conferencing tool, Tencent Meeting, rebranded as VooV Meeting in over 100 countries and regions, including the United States, Japan, Singapore, India, and Thailand.  The launch was timed specifically to capitalize on the influx of demand for teleconferencing services prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced professionals and organizations to rely heavily on teleconferencing services for work and school.  Key features of the platform, such as its ability to support 300 attendees, screen sharing, and online document collaboration, have been released free of charge for the duration of the ongoing pandemic.

Tencent has faced foreign scrutiny, particularly in Western countries, during efforts to expand its services abroad, particularly with regard to its social media platform, WeChat.  WeChat has been alleged to track and monitor domestic user data and to keep an open line of communication with the Chinese Communist Party in compliance with the 2017 National Intelligence Law.  Consequently, data security concerns have led to special attention to the expansion of Tencent products abroad, including in Australia, the United States, and Japan. 

Past scrutiny has also been triggered by the company’s ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), including due to the company’s CEO, Pony Ma, serving as a delegate to China’s National People’s Congress – an indication of CCP ties.  Ma has also publicly expressed support for China’s authoritarian internet government model.  Tencent has been noted as an early proponent of the China’s “Great Firewall.”  It remains to be seen the extent to which VooV Meeting challenges existing teleconferencing services such as Zoom, Slack, and Google Hangout (among others), which have all also experienced an uptick in users due to the virus, and what kind of response this could receive from security professionals.