Zoom has revised its terms of service following customer backlash and outrage.
Zoom, the video conferencing platform that experienced a surge in popularity throughout the pandemic, has become the primary choice for a wide range of offices, schools, and organizations today. We’re all quite familiar with its workings.
Nevertheless, during its ascent to fame, the company apparently attempted a somewhat sneaky maneuver on its users. It’s been reported that Zoom updated its website’s Terms of Service without sending email notifications to its users or providing comprehensive explanations regarding the modifications.
Zoom’s initial Terms of Service update
Initially, on March 31, 2023, Zoom revised its Terms of Service, which, however, only became enforceable on July 27, 2023. This update introduced a clause that seemed to grant Zoom the ability to utilize user data and customer content for AI training, potentially without obtaining customer consent according to some interpretations.
Zoom’s update goes unnoticed for months
The update went largely unnoticed until earlier this month, a circumstance that’s not surprising given the absence of any notification from the company. Additionally, considering the lengthy Terms of Service agreement, which spans over 1,000 words in this instance, it’s understandable that few individuals meticulously scrutinize it for even the slightest alterations in terms.
Zoom makes clarification after outcry
Naturally, once the news surfaced, there was a strong reaction from Zoom’s user base and others. In response, the advocacy group Fight For the Future initiated an online petition, urging Zoom to revise its policy. Consequently, on August 11, 2023, Zoom found itself compelled to provide clarity on its Terms of Service, making them more comprehensible. The company conveyed the following message in a blog post:
“In light of the feedback we have received concerning the recent updates to Zoom’s terms of service, we have taken steps to revise our terms of service… The purpose of this revision is to explicitly clarify that Zoom does not utilize any form of communication, including audio, video, chat, screen sharing, attachments, or other customer content (such as poll responses, whiteboard content, and reactions), for the training of either Zoom’s or third-party artificial intelligence models.”
Eric Yuan, the CEO of Zoom, openly admitted that the company had faltered in effectively communicating the alterations to its users. Through his LinkedIn account, Yuan also affirmed that Zoom would never engage in training AI models using customer content without obtaining explicit consent. He further explained, “For those who have utilized our two novel generative AI features available on trial for the past two months, it’s evident in the user interface that we consistently inquire whether customers wish to participate in content sharing to enhance our products and refine our AI models.”
Zoom’s unconvincing reassurances
Despite these efforts, not everyone found reassurance in Zoom’s actions, with certain individuals pointing out the company’s ambiguous wording. Zoom asserts in its revised Terms of Service that obtaining consent is necessary for the utilization of “Customer Content.” However, it retains the ability to gather and utilize various forms of data not falling under the “Customer Content” classification for AI-related objectives. This encompasses different data categories like device specifics, usage patterns, and user feedback, all aimed at enhancing their range of products and services.
Kurt’s key takeaways
What we’re observing in the tech industry is a disconcerting pattern. Once a company establishes dominance in a specific market segment, it often wields the power to modify policies and compromise user privacy with apparent impunity.
This trend has been evident with the likes of Google and Facebook, and it’s currently manifesting with Zoom. Regrettably, it’s likely to recur with emerging tech behemoths in the future.