Zoom must nix emotion tracking feature: human rights groups

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Human rights and privacy groups are demanding that video chat giant Zoom scrap its “creepy” plans to use artificial intelligence to track and analyze human emotions, slamming the technology as “pseudoscience.” 

The news comes after tech site Protocol reported that Zoom plans to start selling products designed to detect the emotional state of participants in video calls. 

For example, the technology could supposedly use a person’s facial expressions and tone of voice to tell whether the person is happy, sad or impatient. Boosters of the feature say it can help salespeople close deals and companies monitor whether their employees are happy.  

But in an open letter published Tuesday, more than two dozen activist groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation argued that so-called “emotion detection” software “does not work.” 

The ACLU and other groups called on Zoom CEO Eric Yuan to ditch the controversial technology.
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Zoom sign on building
Zoom became an investor favorite in 2020 but its shares have plummeted 69% over the past year.
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“Facial expressions are often disconnected from the emotions underneath, and research has found that not even humans can accurately read or measure the emotions of others some of the time,” the groups wrote to Zoom CEO Eric Yuan.

The groups also warned that technology is “dangerous” and “inherently biased,” running the risk of discriminating against minority groups.

“These tools assume that all people use the same facial expressions, voice patterns, and body language — but that’s not true,” the groups warned. “Adding this feature will discriminate against certain ethnicities and people with disabilities, hardcoding stereotypes into millions of devices.” 

In addition, the groups said that harvesting personal data about emotions risks making companies that use the software a target for hackers and abusive governments.

People on a Zoom call
“Facial expressions are often disconnected from the emotions underneath,” advocates wrote to Zoom CEO Eric Yuan.
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The letter echoes concerns raised by researchers from New York University’s AI Now institute, who wrote in a 2019 study that emotion detection technology lacks “a scientific consensus as to whether it can ensure accurate or even valid results.” 

Zoom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company’s alleged push into emotion detection comes amid a serious stock slump. 

After becoming an investor favorite during lockdowns in 2020, Zoom shares have plummeted 69% over the past year as students and white collar workers have return to in-person work. 

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