For Americans sheltering at home during the coronavirus pandemic, the Zoom videoconferencing platform has become a lifeline, enabling millions of people to easily keep in touch with family members, friends, students, teachers and work colleagues.
But until Thursday, a data-mining feature on Zoom allowed some participants to surreptitiously access LinkedIn profile data about other users — without Zoom asking for their permission during the meeting or even notifying them that someone else was snooping on them.
An analysis by The New York Times found that when people signed in to a meeting, Zoom’s software automatically sent their names and email addresses to a company system it used to match them with their LinkedIn profiles.
The data-mining feature was available to Zoom users who subscribed to a LinkedIn service for sales prospecting, called LinkedIn Sales Navigator. Once a Zoom user enabled the feature, they could quickly and covertly access LinkedIn profile data — like locations, employer names and job titles — for people in their Zoom meetings by clicking on a LinkedIn icon next to their names.
The Times found that even when a reporter signed in to a Zoom meeting under pseudonyms, the data-mining tool was able to instantly match him to his LinkedIn profile. In doing so, Zoom disclosed the reporter’s real name to another user, overriding his efforts to keep it private.
Reporters also found that Zoom automatically sent participants’ personal information to its data-mining tool even when no one in a meeting had activated it.
On Thursday, after Times reporters contacted Zoom and LinkedIn, the companies said they would disable the service.
In a statement, Zoom said it took users’ privacy “extremely seriously” and was “removing the LinkedIn Sales Navigator to disable the feature on our platform entirely.” In a related blog post, Eric S. Yuan, the chief executive of Zoom, wrote that the company had removed the data-mining feature. He also said that Zoom would freeze all new features for the next 90 days to concentrate on data security and privacy issues.
In a separate statement, LinkedIn said it worked “to make it easy for members to understand their choices over what information they share” and would suspend the profile-matching feature on Zoom “while we investigate this further.”