Zoom might use your calls and data to train AI

There’s a chance your video calls will be used to train artificial intelligence.

Zoom updated its terms of service this week to allow it to use some of its users’ data for training AI. And the wording reads pretty strong, leading to lots of fears online.

The terms state the you grant Zoom “perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license and all other rights required or necessary” to customer content for a number of purposes, now including “machine learning” and “artificial intelligence.” Another section of the terms state that Zoom can use certain user data for “machine learning or artificial intelligence (including for the purposes of training and tuning of algorithms and models).”

Developer-focused website Stack Diary first noticed the changes in Zoom’s policies. It quickly became a point of contention online. People were outraged that Zoom would use customer data for AI. But right now, it’s tough to parse exactly how or what Zoom plans to use for AI and machine-learning purposes. Terms of service are written in complicated legalese. Privacy experts will almost certainly parse through it with a fine-tooth comb.

After folks grew outraged online, Zoom responded with a blog post about the updated terms — though that didn’t clear things up completely. It walked through a few key points, among them reiterating that customers own their content, even if Zoom has “permission to use this customer content to provide value-added service.” It also added that section 10.2, which included the bit about AI training, is referencing “certain information about how our customers in the aggregate use our product,” which is service-generated data that Zoom considers its own data.

Later, in all bold, Zoom wrote: “For AI, we do not use audio, video, or chat content for training our models without customer consent.”

The company did note, however, that if users consent to using its generative AI features — such as a meeting summary tool — then users will be presented with the choice to share that content for training its AI. Basically there is a toggle bottom to turn access to the data off or on.

It isn’t totally unusual for a company to want to use the service-generated data, or even for AI to be based on large swaths of user-generated data. But video calls feel like such a personal thing that people were quick to react to the idea that our images and conversations might be farmed for AI purposes. Zoom is claiming that we get to choose if that’s the case, but the strong language in the terms of service were certainly enough to frighten a fair number of customers. Also, like any terms of service, it remains tough to predict exactly what the longer lasting implications will be — because the language is open-ended and difficult to parse.

It’s been a rough few days for Zoom’s PR. The company that began synonymous with remote work is…forcing its employees back into the office. Employees within 50 miles of an office will be required to show up, in-person, at least two days per week.

They’re both stories of trust, really. Just as Zoom doesn’t seem to trust its employees to work outside the office, customers had a tough time trusting the company’s new terms.

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