Updated As the global coronavirus pandemic pushes the popularity of videoconferencing app Zoom to new heights, one web veteran has sounded the alarm over its "creepily chummy" relationship with tracking-based advertisers.
Doc Searls, co-author of the influential internet marketing book The Cluetrain Manifesto last century, today warned [cached] Zoom not only has the right to extract data from its users and their meetings, it can work with Google and other ad networks to turn this personal information into targeted ads that follow them across the web.
This personal info includes, and is not limited to, names, addresses and any other identifying data, job titles and employers, Facebook profiles, and device specifications. Crucially, it also includes "the content contained in cloud recordings, and instant messages, files, whiteboards ... shared while using the service."
And he concluded: "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.)"
"Zoom does use certain standard advertising tools which require personal data," the fine-print states. "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) ... For example, Google may use this data to improve its advertising services for all companies who use their services."
Searls, a former Harvard Berkman Fellow, said netizens are likely unaware their information could be harvested from their Zoom accounts and video conferences for advertising and tracking across the internet: "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.
"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."
The Register asked Zoom, which offers free and paid-for conferencing plans, for comment on the critique, and has yet to hear back from the developer.
"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," Searls continued.
Meanwhile, shares in Zoom are up seven per cent today and 26 per cent over the past month. ®
Updated to add on March 31
"Zoom does not monitor or use customer content for any reason other than as part of providing our services," the fine print today reads. "Zoom does not sell customer content to anyone or use it for any advertising purposes."
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