I really don’t want to bust Zoom. No tech company on Earth is doing more to keep civilization working at a time when it could so easily fall apart. Zoom does that by providing an exceptionally solid, reliable, friendly, flexible, useful (and even fun!) way for people to be present with each other, regardless of distance. No wonder Zoom is now to conferencing what Google is to search. Meaning: it’s a verb. Case in point: between the last sentence and this one, a friend here in town sent me an email that began with this:
That’s a screen shot.
But Zoom also has problems, and I’ve spent two posts, so far, busting them for one of those problems: their apparent lack of commitment to personal privacy:
With this third post, I’d like to turn that around.
I’ll start with the email I got yesterday from a person at a company engaged by Zoom for (seems to me) reputation management, asking me to update my posts based on the “facts” (his word) in this statement:
Zoom takes its users’ privacy extremely seriously, and does not mine user data or sell user data of any kind to anyone. Like most software companies, we use third-party advertising service providers (like Google) for marketing purposes: to deliver tailored ads to our users about Zoom products the users may find interesting. (For example, if you visit our website, later on, depending on your cookie preferences, you may see an ad from Zoom reminding you of all the amazing features that Zoom has to offer). However, this only pertains to your activity on our Zoom.us website. The Zoom services do not contain advertising cookies. No data regarding user activity on the Zoom platform – including video, audio and chat content – is ever used for advertising purposes. If you do not want to receive targeted ads about Zoom, simply click the “Cookie Preferences” link at the bottom of any page on the zoom.us site and adjust the slider to ‘Required Cookies.’
Also, if all the ads shown to users are just “about Zoom,” why are those other companies in the picture at all? Specifically, under “About Cookies on This Site,” the slider is defaulted to allow all “functional cookies” and “advertising cookies,” the latter of which are “used by advertising companies to serve ads that are relevant to your interests.” Wouldn’t Zoom be in a better position to know your relevant (to Zoom) interests, than all those other companies?
- Are those third parties “processors” under GDPR, or “service providers by the CCPAs definition? (I’m not an authority on either, so I’m asking.)
- How do these third parties know what your interests are? (Presumably by tracking you, or by learning from others who do. But it would help to know more.)
- What data about you do those companies give to Zoom (or to each other, somehow) after you’ve been exposed to them on the Zoom site?
- What targeting intelligence do those companies bring with them to Zoom’s pages because you’re already carrying cookies from those companies, and those cookies can alert those companies (or others, for example through real time bidding auctions) to your presence on the Zoom site?
- If all Zoom wants to do is promote Zoom products to Zoom users (as that statement says), why bring in any of those companies?
Here is what I think is going on (and I welcome corrections): Because Zoom wants to comply with GDPR and CCPA, they’ve hired TrustArc to put that opt-out cookie gauntlet in front of users. They could just as easily have used Quantcast‘s system, or consentmanager‘s, or OneTrust‘s, or somebody else’s.
All those services are designed to give companies a way to obey the letter of privacy laws while violating their spirit. That spirit says stop tracking people unless they ask you to, consciously and deliberately. In other words, opting in, rather than opting out. Every time you click “Accept” to one of those cookie notices, you’ve just lost one more battle in a losing war for your privacy online.
Zoom can fix all of this easily by just stopping it. Other companies—ones that depend on adtech (tracking-based advertising)—don’t have that luxury. But Zoom does.
If we take Zoom at its word (in that paragraph they sent me), they aren’t interested in being part of the adtech fecosystem. They just want help in aiming promotional ads for their own services, on their own site.
Three things about that:
- Neither the Zoom site, nor the possible uses of it, are so complicated that they need aiming help from those third parties.
- Zoom is the world’s leading sellers’ market right now, meaning they hardly need to advertise at all.
By severing its ties with adtech, Zoom can start restoring people’s faith in its commitment to personal privacy.
And then Zoom could do Apple one better, by participating in work going on already to put people in charge of their own privacy online, at scale. In my last post. I named two organizations doing that work. Four more are the Me2B Alliance, Kantara, ProjectVRM, and MyData.
I’d be glad to help with that too. If anyone at zoom is interested, contact me directly this time. Thanks.
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