Human Rights Groups Are Protesting Zoom’s Emotion Recognition Tech

Over two dozen groups want the video conferencing company to "abandon plans to mine users for emotional data points"

Video call from home during lockdown
Would you want AI examining your facial expressions and moods during a Zoom call?
Alistair Berg / Getty

Over two dozen human rights groups have banded together to protest Zoom’s interest in emotion recognition technology, which the groups claim is “discriminatory, manipulative, potentially dangerous and based on assumptions that all people use the same facial expressions, voice patterns, and body language.”

Per Gizmodo, the protest stems from a report by Protocol in early April noting that companies wanted to use artificial intelligence to communicate better during virtual sales meetings, as well as to detect the “emotional state” of a deal. While the video conferencing service does not currently assess anything in real-time during a meeting, their new Zoom IQ for Sales feature does deliver post-meeting analysis.

“Experts admit that emotion analysis does not work,” as an open letter to Zoom’s Founder & Chief Executive Officer Eric S. Yuan notes (the letter is signed by Fight for the Future and 20+ other rights groups). “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. Developing this tool adds credence to pseudoscience and puts your reputation at stake.”

The letter also suggests the technology is biased and could lead to punitive action against employees, students and other users if they’re “expressing the wrong emotions.”

At press time, Zoom had not publicly commented on the implementation of emotion recognition technology. The Fight for the Future letter has asked Zoom “to publicly respond to our request and commit to not implementing emotion AI by May 20, 2022.”

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