Zoom Class Action Raises Privacy Concern with Favored Online Meeting Platform


By: Barry Miller

A class action filed March 30 alleges that the popular Zoom Video Communications platform is rife with privacy concerns.

That story has piqued the interest of the legal community, as Zoom has become the platform of choice among mediators working to resolve disputes during a time when in-person meetings are prohibited or discouraged.

The class action, Cullen v. Zoom Video Communications, Inc., 5:20-cv-02155 (N.D. Cal.), alleges that Zoom “has failed to properly safeguard the personal information of the increasing millions of users of its software application….” It states that “[u]pon installing or upon each opening of the Zoom App, Zoom collects the personal information of its users and discloses, without adequate notice or authorization, this personal information of its users….”

The lawsuit states claims under the California Consumer Privacy Act, as well as the state’s Unlawful and Unfair Business Practices and Consumers Legal Remedies laws. It also makes common-law claims for negligence, invasion of privacy, and unjust enrichment.

Forbes magazine reported yesterday that some users are complaining that the recording of private chats in Zoom results in disclosing chats thought to be private. Messages to other chat users are visible when the chat is downloaded, according to a Twitter user Forbes quoted. Zoom this in its story, although it did say that if a host records a Zoom meeting locally, private chats become part of that recording. Another outlet is reporting that Zoom meetings do not support encryption end-to-end.

Both the U.S. Attorney General and the N.Y. Attorney General are investigating Zoom privacy concerns. As a result of such investigations and complaints, Zoom has reportedly removed code that sent user data to Facebook without clearly disclosing that to the user.

Zoom has said that its app did not share sensitive data, such as user names, emails, or phone numbers, but did provide information about user devices (including specifications), operating systems, and time zones.

The federal and New York investigations bear watching by attorneys. Since mid-March, when COVID-19 caused many state and federal courts to close or restrict access to courthouses and ban in-person proceedings, mediators have (commendably) continued to work at getting cases settled without in-person meetings. Most court orders encourage the use of technology to continue the progress of cases. Mediators were among the first to heed that encouragement, and the Zoom platform emerged as their consensus choice.

California mediator Jean Lawler does not believe mediators will stop using Zoom, but she does believe both mediators and the attorneys they work with must have a good understanding of the technology before using it. She notes that Zoom gives users the ability to control settings, and users must be aware of how they are set. “[A]nyone who hosts an online meeting, on any platform, would be well advised to very judiciously take a look at their settings and options to ensure settings that can protect the privacy of the participants,” said Lawler in an email.

Among the most important things, she said, is not to allow recordings of mediation sessions, not allowing chat, requiring unique identifiers and passwords from attendees, and having attendees go to a virtual waiting room so the mediator can allow them into mediation after confirming their identity.

Zoom makes similar security recommendations in a whitepaper available on its site.

Attorneys may also wish to review Zoom’s Compliance Statement with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, and inquire whether the same protective steps have been taken to protect data in the United States. This is particularly true if the mediation may involve the data of EU residents, or data collected from someone while they were visiting the EU.

Another mediator told FMG that confidential information in his mediations continues to be exchanged by mail and email. None of that information is exchanged via Zoom.

As government leaders talk about flattening the contagion curve, Zoom is a reminder that attorneys, mediators, and judges are finding they must accelerate their technology learning curve.  

Additional Information:

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