A group of 19 House lawmakers is requesting information from video conferencing platform Zoom amid scrutiny of the company’s privacy practices, as more Americans turn to the platform to meet their working from home needs.
In a letter address to Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan on Friday, the Democratic lawmakers from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce asked him to “shed light” on the company’s data collection practices, including information on attendee attention tracking, cloud recording, and automatic transcriptions of conferences. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), who is the chair of the subcommittee on consumer protection and commerce, are among those who signed the letter.
“Our new dependency on such solutions raises important questions about the privacy practices of the companies many of us are interacting with for the first time,” the letter stated.
Zoom gained intense popularity in recent weeks as millions of Americans are required to work from home as part of measures to control the spread of the CCP virus pandemic. The company said reached more than 200 million daily users around the world in March, which is up from 10 million daily participants at the end of December last year.
The letter comes as the company came under the spotlight for a range of privacy and security concerns in recent weeks. Most recently, the company’s privacy and security features are being carefully examined after hackers exploited a screen-sharing feature by hijacking meetings and online classrooms with messages in an emerging phenomenon called “zoom-bombing.”
The FBI Boston’s division issued a warning about zoom-bombing on March 30 after it received multiple reports about conferences being interrupted by pornographic or hate images and threatening language sent. In one example, an online class conducted on the platform was interrupted when an unidentified individual dialed into the call and yelled profanity to the participants. The individual then shouted the teacher’s home address in the call.
Officials using the platform for meetings have also fallen victim to the phenomenon. Connecticut’s Attorney General William Tong said on Friday that he was “zoom-bombed” by hundreds of “profane and racist comments” during a Zoom call earlier this week. Tong said that his office is working with other attorneys general offices across the country to probe the company for potential privacy violations, he told reporters in a call on Friday, reported CNBC. He added that at least two other offices—New York and Florida—are part of the effort.
The New York Times reported earlier this week that New York Attorney General Letitia James had sent a letter to the company asking them what new security measures have been put in place to handle the increased traffic as the platform become more popular during the CCP virus pandemic.
The company is also the subject of a class-action lawsuit filed in California for allegedly collecting and sharing personal user data to third parties including Facebook, without the user’s knowledge or permission.
The suit accuses the company of failing to adequately safeguard the personal information of the increasing millions of users of its software application (“Zoom App”) and video conferencing platform.”
Yuan released multiple statements on blog posts addressing concerns about its data-sharing practices. He claimed that the sharing of data to Facebook came out from the feature that allows users to “login with Facebook” for Apple devices and that they were only made aware that the Facebook software package was collecting device information on March 25.
In a separate recent statement on Wednesday, he acknowledged that his company had fallen short of the community’s privacy and security expectations, adding that the application was originally built for enterprise customers and did not factor in that it would become popular with the public.
“[W]e did not design the product with the foresight that, in a matter of weeks, every person in the world would suddenly be working, studying, and socializing from home,” he wrote. “We now have a much broader set of users who are utilizing our product in a myriad of unexpected ways, presenting us with challenges we did not anticipate when the platform was conceived.”
The lawmaker’s letter seeks further information about what data the company retains, what information is being shared to third parties, and which third parties are receiving the information.
The company is expected to provide answers to the lawmakers’ questions by April 10.