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Navigating Data Privacy Concerns Following Zoom's Updated Service Terms

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom became a massively used platform, with its number of daily meeting participants increasing by 50% at the start of the pandemic. Even 2+ years after the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom.us still reported over 800 million site visitors in April 2023.

However, the popular video conferencing application has come under scrutiny recently for its recent changes in its service terms, which could potentially have allowed Zoom's AI to collect more data than users are comfortable with.

What Has Zoom Changed in Its Terms of Service?

For the most part, Zoom's terms of service (ToS) are similar to those of any other widely used software. There's a lot of legal language about software licensing, the applicability of Beta Program Terms of Use for beta features, and the like.

However, effective July 27, the video platform's terms of service (specifically, section 10.4) indicated that users who agreed to the privacy policy contained within the ToS consented to allow some of the customer data generated in their use of the software for various product improvement purposes. These purposes could include collecting data such as patterns of usage, device details, data sharing with third-party affiliates, and targeted advertising.

Furthermore, users who opted into the company's latest generative AI features (an automated Zoom meeting summary tool and an OpenAI-based chat content-generating tool that were released on a trial basis in June 2023) could only use these features if they consented to allow their content to be used for training AI.

The expectation was that user-generated content from Zoom customers, such as chat transcripts or audio transcripts, would be used to train the generative AI to achieve higher levels of performance and superior levels of accuracy. However, at the time of the initial release of these updated terms of service, there was no way for consumers to opt out of this data tracking if they wanted to use the new features.

Privacy Concerns Caused by Generative AI Data Collection

By early August, many consumers, privacy experts, and several media articles had raised an outcry about Zoom's data collection being a required part of product usage. At that time, Zoom's verbiage indicated that user consent to the updated ToS gave "Zoom a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license” for purposes ranging from quality assurance to machine learning and training AI models.

This understandably concerned many users, who were worried that their video content and service-generated data would be used to train AI models without customer consent or a chance to opt out. Even if users opted into this data collection, there was no expectation that they would receive any payment or recognition for letting their user content aid the development of Zoom products and services.

Consider More Private Alternatives

Following the controversy about the data privacy rights of Zoom users, the company edited its original response blog to state clearly and unequivocally that "Zoom does not use any of your audio, video, chat, screen-sharing, attachments, or other communications like customer content (such as poll results, whiteboard, and reactions) to train Zoom’s or third-party artificial intelligence models."

In addition, the current terms of service have been amended with the same language in the section of the ToS covering "Data Usage, Licenses and Responsibilities," which is the section over which the original concerns had been raised.

While Zoom appears to have stepped away from mining user data for the purposes of AI training, it still collects plenty of data from regular users. Sharing data with third parties, including in the realm of marketing and advertising, raises security issues by putting you at risk for hacking or letting your sensitive user information get disseminated.

It's clear that anyone who wants to continue using Zoom needs to go over any ToS updates with a fine-toothed comb to make sure they don't sneak additional data-collecting or AI-related provisions into their user agreements.

However, it might be a good idea to try other video conferencing services that employ dedicated security measures (such as Google Meet) or remain transparent regarding user data (such as MS Teams). The safest way to avoid having your video content scoured by Zoom AI or your data compromised through their sharing policies may be to avoid or minimize using Zoom entirely.

Contact a Leading Cybersecurity Provider to Schedule a Consultation

With user agreements and business data collection practices changing all the time, it can be difficult to keep your business and personal information safe. That's why you need to contact the experts at TechBldrs.

We'll create a cybersecurity and data management plan that's right for you and will keep your sensitive information safe and sound!

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