Is it important to control our communication tools today? What about tomorrow?

August 9, 2023

Antifa Graffitti

Many of us have seen the recent headlines about Zoom using audio and video content from calls to train its Artificial Intelligence (AI) models. Some aspects of this story are familiar, but there are a two angles that are worth considering more carefully.

The first is access. Can zoom access our conversations? Despite Zoom’s best marketing effort in 2020 claiming they are rolling out end-to-end encryption, the truth is that virtually none of our zoom meetings are end-to-end encrypted. If you record the meeting, have break out rooms, use live captioning and many other features, end-to-end encryption is not even possible. And that’s not because Zoom hates privacy, it’s because end-to-end encryption prevents them from monetizing our meetings. The recent AI-related changes in the Zoom terms of service are further confirmation that our content on corporate communications platforms is and will always be accessible to those corporations and anyone else they provide access to in their quest to monetize our data. This is bad, but it’s not that bad until you consider the second angle.

The second angle is the political environment. In the last eight years we have experienced a president with an unprecedented disregard for constitutional law that is well positioned to be re-elected, a sustained and effective national book burning and curriculum-cutting campaign targeting traditionally marginalized communities, a resurgence of electoral manipulation blatantly designed to disenfranchise African Americans, a reversal of a landmark court case on reproductive justice and countless other developments pointing to a potentially unprecedented future of repressive government control in the United States.

These two developments are on a collision course that is particularly worrisome for any movements that depend on Internet communications.

Fortunately, there is a silver lining. There is a growing movement of technologists working daily to build alternatives to corporate communications technology–a movement that everyone organizing with Powerbase, joining Progressive Technology Project calls and trainings via Jitsi Meet, or using any of the hundreds of other movement-run technology services is part of.

Thanks to all of you we are exploring entirely different models for how to collectively build technology based on the principles of mutual aid, collaboration, privacy, respect and sustainability. While our alternatives are not always as shiny or sophisticated as the corporate tools, together, with an eye to the future we are defining what really makes one piece of software better than another.

Photo credit: By Jcarax68 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons