As quarantined millions gather virtually on conferencing platforms, the best of those, Zoom, is doing very well. Hats off.
- Zoom is a work-from-home privacy disaster waiting to happen (Mashable, March 13)
- Zoom’s A Lifeline During COVID-19: This Is Why It’s Also A Privacy Risk (Forbes, March 25)
- Zoom and Houseparty: Video Calling at Your Own (Privacy) Risk (VPN Overview, March 25)
… Zoom does use certain standard advertising tools which require Personal Data…
What they mean by that is adtech. What they’re also saying here is that Zoom is in the advertising business, and in the worst end of it: the one that lives off harvested personal data. What makes this extra creepy is that Zoom is in a position to gather plenty of personal data, some of it very intimate (for example with a shrink talking to a patient) without anyone in the conversation knowing about it. (Unless, of course, they see an ad somewhere that looks like it was informed by a private conversation on Zoom.)
A person whose personal data is being shed on Zoom doesn’t know that’s happening because Zoom doesn’t tell them. There’s no red light, like the one you see when a session is being recorded. If you were in a browser instead of an app, an extension such as Privacy Badger could tell you there are trackers sniffing your ass. And, if your browser is one that cares about privacy, such as Brave, Firefox or Safari, there’s a good chance it would be blocking trackers as well. But in the Zoom app, you can’t tell if or how your personal data is being harvested.
(think, for example, Google Ads and Google Analytics).
There’s no need to think about those, because both are widely known for compromising personal privacy. (See here. And here. Also Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger’s Re-Engineering Humanity and Shoshana Zuboff’s In the Age of Surveillance Capitalism.)
We use these tools to help us improve your advertising experience (such as serving advertisements on our behalf across the Internet, serving personalized ads on our website, and providing analytics services).
Nobody goes to Zoom for an “advertising experience,” personalized or not. And nobody wants ads aimed at their eyeballs elsewhere on the Net by third parties using personal information leaked out through Zoom.
Sharing Personal Data with the third-party provider while using these tools may fall within the extremely broad definition of the “sale” of Personal Data under certain state laws because those companies might use Personal Data for their own business purposes, as well as Zoom’s purposes.
For example, Google may use this data to improve its advertising services for all companies who use their services.
May? Please. The right word is will. Why wouldn’t they?
(It is important to note advertising programs have historically operated in this manner. It is only with the recent developments in data privacy laws that such activities fall within the definition of a “sale”).
While advertising has been around since forever, tracking people’s eyeballs on the Net so they can be advertised at all over the place has only been in fashion since around 2007, which was when Do Not Track was first floated as a way to fight it. Adtech (tracking-based advertising) began to hockey-stick in 2010 (when The Wall Street Journal launched its excellent and still-missed What They Know series, which I celebrated at the time). As for history, ad blocking became the biggest boycott, ever by 2015. And, thanks to adtech, the GDPR went into force in 2018 and the CCPA 2020,. We never would have had either without “advertising programs” that “historically operated in this manner.”
By the way, “this manner” is only called advertising. In fact it’s actually a form of direct marketing, which began as junk mail. I explain the difference in Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff.
If you opt out of “sale” of your info, your Personal Data that may have been used for these activities will no longer be shared with third parties.
Opt out? Where? How? I just spent a long time logged in to Zoom https://us04web.zoom.us/), and can’t find anything about opting out of “‘sale’ of your personal info.” (Later, I did get somewhere, and that’s in the next post, More on Zoom and Privacy.)
Here’s the thing: Zoom doesn’t need to be in the advertising business, least of all in the part of it that lives like a vampire off the blood of human data. If Zoom needs more money, it should charge more for its services, or give less away for free. Zoom has an extremely valuable service, which it performs very well—better than anybody else, apparently. It also has a platform with lots of apps with just as absolute an interest in privacy. They should be concerned as well. (Unless, of course, they also want to be in the privacy-violating end of the advertising business.)
Please fix it, Zoom.
As for Zoom’s competitors, there’s a great weakness to exploit here.
Next post on the topic: More on Zoom and Privacy.
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