Zoom recording capabilities raise privacy concerns at universities, colleges

momoka sasaki/Staff

Related Posts

Universities and colleges switched to remote learning with the spread of the coronavirus, raising concerns regarding instructors’ ability to record meetings without the consent of students.

According to a UC Berkeley Office of Ethics webpage titled “Privacy Considerations When Using Zoom,” only the hosts of Zoom meetings are permitted to record. Hosts must inform all participants of recording prior to the start of the meeting and provide participants with the opportunity to opt out.

“When possible, meeting facilitators should provide alternative options that avoid the recording of attendees who object to such recording,” said UC Berkeley Interim Campus Privacy Officer Scott Seaborn in an email. “For example, attendees can turn their video or audio functionality off in order to join the event without being recorded.”

Zoom privacy policies indicate that the host is responsible for obtaining the consent of participants to record, but Zoom also provides visual and audio cues to inform participants of a recording.

Other universities, such as Harvard University, have approached privacy policies in a different way. According to Harvard University’s “Rules and Best Practices for the Recording of Classroom Sessions Conducted via Zoom” under its Information Technology Help page, professors of the university do not have to obtain consent from students but rather only give notice of recording.

The policy adds that Harvard students have the option to opt for an audio-only mode, disabling their webcam for the class. Additionally, students may use a pseudonymous username.

While UC Berkeley’s Zoom recording policy states that students should be given the opportunity to opt out of recorded sessions, it does not state how it may impact the attendance and participation credit of students who choose to do so.

According to Berkeley News’ “Coronavirus (COVID-19) information” webpage, guidelines for instruction state that instructors are allowed to take attendance and use “participation as a metric for academic performance.” It encourages instructors to communicate any change in their attendance and participation requirements, as well as accommodate students’ special circumstances.

Executive Director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology James Dempsey said in an email that professors, administrators and students have to consider multiple factors in privacy as “there is no simple answer.”

These factors, according to Dempsey, include how attendance and participation are graded, how notice of recording is given and whether students are able to turn off their cameras, among other factors.

“If there is a clear value in recording–efficacy is always the first question in assessing a data collection–then balancing these factors and taking steps to mitigate adverse impacts of recording may lead one to conclude that recording in the given context is not unduly harmful to student interests,” Dempsey said in the email.

Contact Natalie Gott at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @natgott_dc.