As COVID-19 grips the world, the deadly virus is also unmistakably changing the landscape of daily communication in our workplaces and classrooms. People are turning to Microsoft, Google, and particularly Zoom to conduct remote conferencing as public health officials encourage self-quarantining to limit exposure and transmission.
But while our reliance on these remote video conferencing tools increases, so should our vigilance and awareness about their data collection and privacy policies. Of note, Zoom's attendee attention-tracking tool and its privacy policies make the tool ripe for exploitation.
Breathing down your neck — With bosses increasingly requiring their workers to turn to remote conferencing, Zoom gives administrators full power to track attendees' attention with an indicator that points out when a participant doesn't have the app "in focus" for more than 30 seconds. Privacy organizations like EPIC have previously criticized this tool in an official complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, noting that it bypasses browser security and gives access to users' web cameras without their knowledge.
Remote work and studying should not come at the expense of unsuspecting users. There's no definitive timeline for the coronavirus to die down but in the meantime, businesses and universities should seriously weigh the pros and cons of using tools like Zoom, and try to look into alternatives that don't obsessively surveil their clients.