Civil society orgs call on Zoom to drop emotional analysis features

A group of nearly 30 civil society groups sent a letter to Zoom Wednesday calling on the company to halt the development of any software aimed at analyzing the emotions of video call participants.

The letter comes in response to a report in the tech publication Protocol where Zoom said it is planning to offer post-meeting sentiment analysis for hosts.

“This move to mine users for emotional data points based on the false idea that AI can track and analyze human emotions is a violation of privacy and human rights,” the groups, including Fight for the Future, the American Civil Liberties Union and Ranking Digital Rights, wrote.

“Zoom needs to halt plans to advance this feature,” they added in the note to Zoom CEO Eric Yuan.

The groups also launched an online petition Wednesday pushing Zoom to drop the technology.

A spokesperson for Zoom declined to comment on the letter or plans to deploy emotional analysis.

Technology designed to analyze human reactions and expressions using artificial intelligence to determine emotions has drawn criticism from civil rights groups and scholars alike.

Facial expressions are incredibly variable from culture to culture and nation to nation, making creating an algorithm that can judge them equally difficult. That is a steep challenge even without considering disabled individuals who may express emotions in different ways than people around them.

“If Zoom advances with these plans, this feature will discriminate against people of certain ethnicities and people with disabilities, hardcoding stereotypes into millions of devices,” Caitlin Seeley George, director of campaign and operations at Fight for the Future, said in a statement.

“It’s not hard to imagine employers and academic institutions using emotion analysis to discipline workers and students perceived to be ‘expressing the wrong emotions’ based on faulty AI,” she added.

This story was updated at 12:59 p.m.