Featured Article : Zoom Data Concerns

In this article, we look at why Zoom found itself as the subject of a backlash over an online update to its terms related to AI, what its response has been, plus what this says about how businesses feel about AI.

What Happened? 

Communications app Zoom updated its terms of service in March but following the change only being publicised on a popular forum in recent weeks, Zoom has faced criticism because many tech commentators have expressed alarm that the change appeared to go against its policy to not use customer-data to train AI.

The Update In Question 

The update to Section 10 of is terms of service, which Zoom says was to explain “how we use and who owns the various forms of content across our platform” gave Zoom “perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license and all other rights” to use Customer Content, i.e. data, content, communications, messages, files, documents and more, for “machine learning, artificial intelligence, training, testing” (and other product development purposes).

The Reaction 

Following the details of the update being posted and discussed on the ‘Hacker News’ forum, there was a backlash against Zoom, with many commentators unhappy with the prospect of AI (e.g. generative AI chatbots, AI image generators and Zoom’s own AI models namely Zoom IQ) and more) being given access to what should be private Zoom calls and other communications.

What’s The Problem? 

There are several concerns that individuals, businesses and other organisations may have over their “Customer Content” being used to train AI. For example:

– Privacy Concerns – worries that personal or sensitive information in video calls could be used in ways the participants never intended.

– Potential security risks. For example, if Zoom stores video and audio data for AI training, it increases the chance of that data being exposed in a hack or breach. Also, it’s possible with generative AI models that private information could be revealed if a user of an AI chatbot asked the right questions.

– Ethical questions. This is because some users may simply not have given clear permission for their data to be used for AI training, raising issues of consent and fairness.

– Legal Issues. For example, depending on the country, using customer data in this manner might violate data protection laws like GDPR, which could get both the company and users into legal trouble. Also, Zoom users or admins for business accounts could click “OK” to the terms of service without fully realising what they’re agreeing, to and employees who use the business Zoom account may be unaware of the choice their employer has made on their behalf. It’s also been noted by some online commentators that Zoom’s terms of service still permit it to collect a lot of data without consent, e.g. what’s grouped under the term ‘Service Generated Data.’

Another Update Prompted 

The backlash, the criticism of Zoom and the doubtless fear of some users leaving the platform over this controversy appears to have prompted another update to the company’s terms of service which Zoom says was to “to reorganise Section 10 and make it easier to understand”. 

The second update was a sentence, in bold, added on the end of Section 10.2 saying: “Zoom does not use any of your audio, video, chat, screen sharing, attachments or other communications-like Customer Content (such as poll results, whiteboard and reactions) to train Zoom or third-party artificial intelligence models.” 

On the company’s blog, Chief Product Officer, Smita Hashim, re-iterated that: “Following feedback received regarding Zoom’s recently updated terms of service Zoom has updated our terms of service and the below blog post to make it clear that Zoom does not use any of your audio, video, chat, screen sharing, attachments, or other communications like customer content (such as poll results, whiteboard, and reactions) to train Zoom’s or third-party artificial intelligence models.” 

The Online Terms of Service Don’t Affect Large Paying Customers 

Smita Hashim explains in the blog post that the terms of service typically cover online customers, but “different contracts exist for customers that buy directly from us” such as “enterprises and customers in regulated verticals like education and healthcare.” Hashim states, therefore, that “updates to the online terms of service do not impact these customers.” 

What Zoom AI? 

Zoom has recently introduced two generative AI features to its platform – Zoom IQ Meeting Summary and Zoom IQ Team Chat Compose, available on free trial and offering automated meeting summaries and AI-powered chat composition.

To customers worried that these tools may be trained using ‘Customer Content’ Zoom says, “We inform you and your meeting participants when Zoom’s generative AI services are in use” and has specifically assured customers that Zoom does not use customer content (e.g. as poll results, whiteboard-content, or user-reactions) to train Zoom’s own (or third-party) AI models.


In 2020, Zoom faced criticism over only offering end-to-end encryption as a paid extra feature after saying paying users would have it anyway. Also, with Zoom being the company whose product enabled (and is all about) remote working, it was criticised after asking staff living within a “commutable distance” (i.e. 50 miles / 80km) of the company’s offices to come to the office twice a week when it was reported to have said (at one time) that all staff could work remotely indefinitely.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

This story shows how, at a time when data is now needed in vast quantities to train AI, a technology that’s growing at a frightening rate (and has been the subject of dire warnings about the threats it could cause), clear data protections in this area are lagging or are missing altogether.

Yes, there are data protection laws. Arguably however, with the lack of understanding of how AI models work and what they need, service terms may not give a clear picture of what’s being consented to (or not) when using AI. There’s a worry, therefore, that boundaries of data protection, privacy, security, ethics, legality, and other contraints may be overstepped without users knowing it in the rush for more data as clear regulation is left behind.

Zoom’s extra assurances may have gone some way toward calming the backlash down and assuring users, but the fact that there was such a backlash over the contents of an old update shows the level of confusion and mistrust around this relatively new technological development and how it could affect everyone.

Tech News : Zoom-Bosses Request Staff Return To Office

Following its growth during the pandemic, video communications company Zoom, which made remote working possible for many, has now ordered staff back to the office for two days a week.

Those Within A Commutable Distance 

This move from Zoom, which many see as a trend among big companies to pull-back from their major commitments to flexible working, will require workers within a “commutable distance” (i.e. 50 miles / 80km) of the company’s offices to come to the office twice a week for designated team days.

Not Many In The UK 

It is not known exactly how many of Zoom’s 8,400 (mostly US-based) workers will be affected by the new policy from the Californian company. Few of those affected, however, are likely to be in the UK because only around 200 people work for Zoom’s newly opened London office.

The rollout of the change to work practices will take place through this month and September on a staggered timeline depending on which country staff are in.

Structured Hybrid Working 

The decision by the company is reported to follow its move towards a “structured hybrid approach” to work. This contrasts with Zoom saying, at one time, that all staff could work remotely indefinitely, but the move is not unexpected. For example, 29 per cent of US workers now operate within hybrid policies (Stanford).

Zoom is one of the last of a number of large corporations to order a return to the office to some extent, perhaps lagging because of its close association with the idea of working remotely (which its product enables), and it has faced tough competition in recent times.

Will Hire Regardless Of Location 

That said, Zoom has said that it still intends to “hire the best talent, regardless of location”.  

Trouble At Mill In Recent Years 

Whereas Zoom enjoyed a massive boost in user numbers during the height of the pandemic, e.g. 10 million daily users in December 2019 rising to a staggering 300 million less than six months later, these days it’s a different story. For example, Zoom has suffered in recent times from:

– Falling net profits.

– Strong competition and improved, expanded offerings from remote work platform rivals like Microsoft Teams and Slack.

– A fall in share price, i.e. from $500 in October 2020 to $68 now (August 2023).

The company’s worsening fortunes prompted 1,300 jobs to be cut earlier this year.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

With the pandemic now appearing to be quite a long way in the rear-view mirror, even though the value of remote working is known, it is no longer so high upon the priority list with many big companies rowing back and finding a happy medium with hybrid working.

The move by Zoom has only really gained clout as news story because its business has been to enable remote working (the irony) but, with new post pandemic priorities in the marketplace, serious competition and improved offerings from Teams and Slack, falling popularity and share prices, and with AI being the new popular kid on the block overshadowing all else, Zoom’s move back to the office may be necessary.

Zoom has itself just launched a new product, the AI-powered Intelligent Director, which “brings together in-office and remote employees,” thereby accepting and marketing for the changing times and fighting back by introducing AI.