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Zoom's terms of service changes spark worries over AI uses. Here's what to know.

AI could steal by listening to you type
AI could steal information by listening to you type, study finds 04:34

When Zoom announced an update to its terms of service earlier this week that appeared to provide access to users' data for AI training, privacy advocates and customers rang the alarm.

"Zoom's [terms of service] now demand that they use AI to train on audio, face and facial movements, even private conversations without recourse, unconditionally and irrevocably," scientist Bryan Jones said in a tweet, "Opting out is not an option."

The backlash prompted Zoom to clarify its service terms in a blog post on Monday, in which it promised not to "use audio, video, or chat content for training our models without customer consent." 

However, privacy experts warn that while that promise is now codified in Zoom's user agreement, it doesn't prevent the company from using customer data to train AI. As a result, many users are confused about how much of their data is being used and how to protect their privacy during digital meet-ups. 

Zoom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Can Zoom access users' video calls to train AI? 

 Zoom can use customers' video calls and chat transcripts to train AI, as long as it has users' consent. 

However, if a meeting host agrees to share data with Zoom, everybody participating in the meeting must share their data during that call. 

This means participants who want their information to remain private must leave the Zoom call if their host consented to data-sharing. To be sure, this could be a problem for workers whose employers require them to attend Zoom sessions. 

"If the administrator consents and it's your boss at your work who requires you to use Zoom, how is that really consent?" Katharine Trendacosta, director of policy and advocacy at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Associated Press.

What kind of data can Zoom collect?

There are two types of data Zoom can collect: "service-generated data" such as user locations and the features customers use to interact with the service, and "customer content," or the data created by users themselves, such as audio or chat transcripts.

In its blog post, Zoom said the company considers service-generated data "to be our data," and experts confirm this language would allow the company to use such data for AI training without obtaining additional consent.

Service-generated data may be used for "for the purpose of … machine learning or artificial intelligence (including for the purposes of training and tuning of algorithms and models,"  according to Zoom's terms of service. 

As for customer content, Zoom may also use the data "for the purpose" of machine learning, the same agreement shows. 

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What is Zoom doing with AI? 

In its blog post, Zoom said it will use customer data to train artificial intelligence for AI-powered features, such as automated meeting summaries for customers.

However, it's unclear if the company is working on other consumer-facing AI products or internal projects that will tap into customer data. 

Zoom's terms of service agreement is "super broad," said Caitlin Seeley George, campaigns and managing director at Fight for the Future, told CBS MoneyWatch. In that way, the company could use certain types of customer data for any number of AI projects, she said.

"[Zoom's] updated terms of service are very broad and could allow them to do more than summarize meetings, even if they aren't doing it yet," George said. 

AI could steal information by listening to you type, study finds 04:34

How do I know if a meeting organizer is sharing data during our call? 

If a meeting organizer decides to use a feature that requires user-generated content like call or chat transcripts to be shared with Zoom, the meeting's participants will receive an alert that an AI feature has been enabled and that their data could be shared for machine learning, the AP reported. 

The app will then prompt participants to either proceed with the meeting or to leave.

Zoom alternatives

Privacy advocates like George recommend steering clear from Zoom until the company provides more details into how users will give their informed consent, what data will be collected and how it will be used. 

Of course, there are other platforms Zoomers can use in the meantime to host video calls. 

Signal, which has a strong privacy focus, promises not to "collect or store any sensitive information" and can be used to create chats and group calls for up to 40 people, its website shows

Jitsi, a privacy-focused videoconferencing tool, can also host group calls. The open-sourced platform is free and offers unlimited time on video calls. 

With reporting by the Associated Press.

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