Zoom updated its Terms of Service on Monday after a controversy over the company’s policies about training AI on user data. Although the policy literally says that Zoom reserves the right to train AI on your calls without your explicit permission, the Terms of Service now include an additional line which says, essentially, we promise not to do that.
The company’s Terms of Service call your video, audio, and chat transcripts “Customer Content.” When you click through Zoom’s terms, you agree to give Zoom “perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license and all other rights” to use that Customer Content for “machine learning, artificial intelligence, training, testing,” and a variety of other product development purposes. The company reserves similar rights for “Service Generated Data,” which includes telemetry data, product usage data, diagnostic data, and other information it gets from analyzing your content and behavior.
However, an update to the legal documents now contains a new clause, which appears in bold: “Notwithstanding the above, Zoom will not use audio, video or chat Customer Content to train our artificial intelligence models without your consent.”
Zoom’s AI policies flew under the radar until a post on the subject sparked outrage on the influential forum Hacker News over the weekend. On Monday morning, Zoom’s Chief Product Officer Smita Hashim published a blog post which says, essentially, that the company doesn’t do the things described in its Terms of Service. Hashim clarified that while the company does use data for some machine learning purposes, “For AI, we do not use audio, video, or chat content for training our models without customer consent.”
You’ll notice the update to Zoom’s Terms of Service makes no mention of the information it defines as “Service Generated Data.” Zoom’s policies say it can do all kinds of things with that data, including training AI. Gizmodo looked through Zoom’s settings and couldn’t find any way to opt out. A company spokesperson pointed to a comment about that issue in the blog post. “We wanted to be transparent that we consider this to be our data so that we can use service generated data to make the user experience better for everyone on our platform,” Hashim wrote.
These days, the word “AI” brings up chatbots, image generators, and other generative tools that create content on your behalf. Zoom does have some services that fall under that category. The company introduced “Zoom IQ” in March, a set of features which summarize chat threads and help you generate automated responses to written chat questions. Zoom IQ is optional. When you enable these features, Zoom there’s a little check box that’s turned on by default. If you don’t bother to change it, you agree to let the company collect data to build and improve its AI. When a call starts with Zoom IQ enabled, other people in the call get a notification about it titled “Meeting Summary has been enabled.” The popup says “The account owner may allow Zoom to access and use your inputs and AI-generated content for the purpose of providing the feature and for Zoom IQ product improvement, including model training.”
As a participant on the call, you get two options: “Leave Meeting,” a button that appears in gray, or a cheerier, bright blue button that says “Got it.” That means if you don’t leave the call, someone else has given Zoom consent on your behalf to let the company harness your data to build its AI.
“Zoom customers decide whether to enable generative AI features, and separately whether to share customer content with Zoom for product improvement purposes,” a Zoom spokesperson said. We’ve updated our terms of service to further confirm that we will not use audio, video, or chat customer content to train our artificial intelligence models without your consent.”
The company’s track record on keeping promises to consumers about their privacy isn’t great. In 2020, Zoom said it would offer end-to-end encryption only to paying users only to backtrack after outcry over offering privacy as a paid feature. A lawsuit alleged the company had claimed it already offered end-to-end encryption to everyone. In fact, Zoom was using a far less secure form of encryption, though it later fixed the issue. The company also shared user data with Google and Facebook without letting customers know, and Zoom agreed to an $85 million settlement over these and other issues in 2021.
Last week, Zoom officially reneged on its work-from-home policy, forcing employees who live near a company office to work in person at least two days a week. Many are calling the change the end of the pandemic’s remote work era.
Update, August 8th, 11:50 a.m.: The article has been updated with more information from the blog post after a Zoom spokesperson responded to additional questions.
Update, August 7th, 5:06 p.m.: After this story was published, Zoom issued an update to its Terms of Service. The article has been updated to reflect the change.