Fight for the Future and 27 other human rights organizations have penned a letter asking Zoom to stop developing emotion tracking software.
Emotion tracking software uses an AI to analyze a person’s face during a video call to track their emotional and facial responses. The letter (opens in new tab) calls this software “ …invasive technology… [and] a violation of privacy and human rights.”
Fight for the Future touches upon five main points as to why it and the other organizations are concerned. They claim that it’s a security risk, discriminatory, manipulative, based on pseudoscience, and an avenue for retaliation.
According to Protocol (opens in new tab), one purpose of emotional tracking software is to provide data to a sales team on whether or not their pitch is working for their client. By knowing a client's “emotional state”, a team can adjust their strategy on the fly. Another purpose is to track students’ emotional state, see how engaged they are, and use that data to better online classes.
The groups worry bad actors and even government organizations can steal the data obtained from this technology to track people. From there, the tech could be used to discriminate against people of certain groups. Fight for the Future even compares it to facial recognition, which has been criticized for being unreliable, unjust, and invasive.
They’re also concerned about companies monitoring users to manipulate them or outright punishing them for expressing “bad emotions.”
And on top of all that, this tech might not even work. A study by the Association for Psychological Science (opens in new tab) reveals that the face doesn’t always reflect a person’s emotions since people can easily hide them.
The letter concludes with the groups asking Zoom to respond and state that it will no longer continue developing emotion tracking by May 20, 2022.
Analysis: Zoom’s response
Zoom has yet to respond to Fight for the Future, but the letter does point out instances of the company bowing to its users. Back in late 2020, Zoom rolled out end-to-end encryption to paying users after receiving a ton of backlash for its poor security protocols. And during that same time period, Zoom removed attention tracking due to similar privacy concerns.
While Zoom has changed its mind in the past, the current company may not budge. It recently launched Zoom IQ for Sales, an add-on for Meetings that provides a post-meeting emotional analysis and transcript of all the conversations.
For those interested, Fight for the Future has a petition page where people can sign and support its efforts to get Zoom to remove emotion tracking from its platform.