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Sep 15, 2020

Zoom seeks to toss privacy suits over strangers 'bombing' chats

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Don’t blame Zoom if your church’s or school’s virtual meeting was disrupted by outsiders heckling you with profanity or streaming pornography.

So says the teleconferencing company in a court filing arguing that it is shielded from lawsuits over Zoombombings under the same federal law that protects other internet platforms from being sued when a terrorist is inspired by social media posts.

Zoom Video Communications Inc. is fighting a rash of lawsuits alleging that privacy and security flaws jeopardized the safety of the video-conferencing app as its use exploded worldwide amid the coronavirus pandemic. Among the incidents that spurred suits are the hijacking of a San Francisco church’s senior citizen bible study class with images of child pornography and the unwelcome presence of men in a private pole dancing class sponsored by a studio in Austin, Texas.

The company says those intrusions and others are exactly what Congress had in mind when it enacted a law in 1996 that broadly immunizes online publishers from mischief by those who use their sites.

The court should dismiss all the Zoombombing claims because “Zoom plays no role whatsoever in developing the offensive conduct, but instead engages in the quintessential type of publisher activity” that’s protected by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, according to Monday night’s filing in federal court in San Jose, California.

The cases are before U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, who has issued pioneering rulings holding Silicon Valley giants accountable for internet privacy violations.

Zoom said it has aggressively responded to safety concerns, including by holding weekly town halls with Chief Executive Officer Eric Yuan to “candidly” discuss efforts to improve privacy and security.

In addition to failing to protect against Zoombombings, the company has been accused of illegally sharing users’ personal data with Facebook Inc. and misleading the public about its encryption protocols.

Zoom argues that the plaintiffs haven’t specifically alleged how they were personally harmed by its practices and urged Koh to dismiss claims including negligence and invasion of privacy.