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What Zoom's Privacy Policy Changes Mean for You

Learn about the changes Zoom made to its privacy policy.

Girard Kelly | April 10, 2020

Zoom is a free and subscription-based video communications cloud platform for video and audio conferencing, chat, and webinars across mobile, desktop, and room systems. There has been a significant surge in demand for Zoom's video conferencing service over the past few months, given the concerns and restrictions associated with the coronavirus pandemic. For more resources about quality educational applications and services to use with your kids at home and students in the classroom, check out our Resources for Educators During the Coronavirus Pandemic and our Resources for Families During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Millions of Americans for the first time are now working from home and taking classes online using video conferencing software to stay connected. For many, Zoom provides a critical service with features that allow them to stay connected to their jobs, co-workers, classmates, families, and friends. However, there are also risks to your personal information that come with using a communication technology like Zoom, so you'll want to understand how the privacy risks and harms of sharing your personal information, and the information of your kids and students, will affect you and them.

A company like Zoom that collects your personal information is required to post a privacy policy on its website to explain how it collects, uses, and shares the personal information you provide through its mobile application and online service. Zoom is required to include a version or an effective date on its privacy policy that indicates which privacy terms apply to your use of the product or service. When you see a new date, this may indicate that changes have been made to the policy, which can affect your privacy -- but understanding which privacy practices have changed can be difficult.

When companies like Zoom send you an email or a notice in the app that their privacy policy has changed, you still need to compare Zoom's old privacy policy with its new one that has the updated version or effective date to understand which changes were made and how those changes could affect you. Sometimes companies provide helpful summary bullet points, but those details typically don't tell the whole story or explain the issues that matter. 

The Common Sense Privacy Program evaluates the policies of popular consumer and education technology applications and services that are currently used by millions of students in the classroom and by kids at home. We will publish our privacy evaluation of Zoom after we have given Zoom the opportunity to review and comment, which is our standard practice when publishing new ratings. We keep track of the policy changes of popular applications and services to help parents and educators understand a product's privacy practices and make an informed decision on whether to use the product. 

What changed?

Zoom has been busy during the past couple of months updating their privacy policy and terms of service to make it easier to read by removing complex legal language and adding and removing sections. From tracking Zoom's policy changes over the past year, it appears Zoom has changed approximately 70% of the content in its privacy policy and has made so many changes at this point, it has practically written a brand-new policy from scratch. All these recent changes to Zoom's privacy practices highlight its growing pains as it tries to quickly adapt to the surge in demand.

To understand which Zoom privacy practices have changed, there are four dates you need to keep in mind. Zoom's oldest privacy policy we are tracking changes from appeared on March 19, 2019. Since then, Zoom has updated its privacy policy at least three times in 2020: once on February 23, again on March 18, and once more on March 29. If you click on any of the policy comparison dates, you can see a lot has changed since the 2019 version. You can see several policy text additions by Zoom highlighted in green and subtractions highlighted in red. But what do all these changes actually mean? Let's break it down -- starting with the most recent changes first.

Changes from February to early March

Zoom recently updated its terms on March 18, 2020, from its older policy on February 23, 2020, which likely affects most people who started using Zoom for the first time at home to work remotely or to attend live online classes. Let's take a look at these privacy policy changes that span a little over a month.

  • Student data: Zoom added a new section about "School Subscribers" in response to school and district demand to better protect K-12 student data privacy rights.
  • Student policy: Zoom said it has a new privacy policy for K-12 schools and districts that explains how it protects K-12 student data under FERPA with school or district subscribers.
  • CCPA: Zoom also added a new section on how you can request that Zoom not sell your data to third parties for profit under the new California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). For more resources on how you can exercise your privacy rights and request that companies not sell your personal information, check out our Do Not Sell resources. 

Changes in late March

Zoom made its latest policy change on March 29, 2020, from its most recent privacy policy date of March 18, 2020. In a little less than two weeks, Zoom added a completely new summary section that describes its privacy principles and practices at the very beginning of its privacy policy. This significant policy update was likely already underway when Zoom was making another small change to its policy around its practice of sharing a user's Facebook profile information without consent because of a recent press article on March 26, 2019, that found the Zoom iOS app sends a user's data to Facebook even if you don't have a Facebook account.

Zoom made the following significant changes to its privacy practices in its most recent privacy policy on March 29, 2020:

  • Sell data: Zoom says it will not sell data.
  • Monitor content: Zoom says it will not monitor video meetings and provides users with a better expectation of privacy around what information user hosts can see.
  • Reasonable security: Zoom says it uses reasonable security to protect user accounts.
  • Collection limitation: Zoom says it limits the collection of personal information from users to only what is needed to provide its service.
  • Targeted ads: Zooms says it can still display targeted ads to users but says it does not use data from a user's Zoom video sessions to display ads, only a user's visits to any Zoom marketing or third-party product websites.
  • Child data: Zoom says it's in compliance with COPPA and protects personal information collected from children under 13.
  • Attention tracking feature: Zoom describes a new feature that puts a clock icon next to a participant's name to indicate to the host when Zoom is not the active window on the participant's computer for more than 30 seconds.

What's next for Zoom?

As we have seen, Zoom has adapted its privacy policy changes quickly in response to the recent overwhelming demand for its video conferencing service in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Its significant policy changes over the past few months show us it has listened to feedback from parents, educators, employers, and the press in navigating the challenges of providing strong privacy protections for all its users. Zoom has made meaningful changes to its privacy practices and principles with better disclosures around the issues of data safety and data rights. However, there are still privacy issue areas where Zoom falls short, including its limited, but still targeted, use of advertising and third-party tracking that may inadvertently affect children and students in K-12.

To get a sense of how far Zoom has come, you can also take a look at all the policy changes it's made from its old privacy policy beginning on March 19, 2019, to its recent update on March 29, 2020 -- which includes its changes in February and March of 2020. These privacy policy changes and terms of service changes span a full year and show the significant additions highlighted in green and subtractions from its policy text highlighted in red. In addition to these major policy changes, Zoom also wrote an additional policy for students, as it quickly came of age in a new era that has come to rely on video conferencing services as an important service during the current upswing in virtual conference usage.