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Fwd: We Call on FOSS Contributors to “Exit Zoom”

From: Andy Tai
Subject: Fwd: We Call on FOSS Contributors to “Exit Zoom”
Date: Tue, 15 Aug 2023 13:19:41 -0700

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Software Freedom Conservancy <>
Date: Tue, Aug 15, 2023 at 12:21 PM
Subject: We Call on FOSS Contributors to “Exit Zoom”
To: <>

            We Call on FOSS Contributors to “Exit Zoom”
  SFC Announces Program to Help FOSS Enthusiasts Adopt Zoom Alternatives


Social Media:

Software Freedom Conservancy stands with concerned users and consumers;
we too face difficult choices with respect to software rights and
freedom. As part of our ongoing advocacy work, we educate and help
people to choose more Free and Open Source Software (“FOSS”), and we aid
developers to create and improve FOSS options for the general public. We
also strive to “meet people where they are.”

The industrialized world has changed since the advent of FOSS. Only the
most privileged among us have the option to avoid proprietary software —
from the grocery store coupons, to interacting with government agencies,
to looking for a job, to attending mandatory meetings at our jobs. The
pandemic accelerated the widespread adoption of new technologies, such
as video chat. Quite quickly after the pandemic started, we noted that
some of our colleagues began pressuring us to meet on Zoom. It was
really hard in the early days of the pandemic to balance the need for
human connection and a principled stance on video conferencing software.
We want to acknowledge that we all make tradeoffs and negotiations with
our ethics, and these are not cut and dry issues. The wider business and
non-profit sectors beyond FOSS quickly standardized on wholly
proprietary video chat software — and Zoom was, by far, the market

We considered completely avoiding those meetings in protest. However, we
saw the same pressure that every individual feels when presented with a
Zoom link: you miss the chance to even participate in the dialogue, and
in some cases, you even risk losing your job! As a compromise for our
situation, SFC staff took an activist approach. We insist on joining
those meetings solely by phone — allowing us to use our mostly-FOSS
LineageOS mobile devices.

This strategy had benefits and downsides. Sometimes, being the only
participant without video sparked interesting discussion about avoidance
of proprietary and centralized platforms was an essential part of
advocating for ethical technology. Participants on those calls, often
acknowledged that on a high level the issues we raised were important,
even if they weren't ready to make a change immediately. Other times, we
were made to feel “othered” because we weren't appearing on video and
had no visual clues about what was happening in the meeting. That
feeling is difficult for anyone to endure, even while we stood steadfast
in our principles.

Throughout the pandemic and its widespread Zoom adoption, we warned that
relying on proprietary, for-profit controlled technology as essential
infrastructure is dangerous. Last week, Zoom demonstrated exactly why
everyone must stop using their services without any further delay.
Specifically, a March 2023 change to Zoom's terms and conditions was
uncovered by the press. Namely, Zoom was revealed to be repurposing
private user data to train machine learning models.

After widespread push bash and negative press, Zoom amended their terms
of service [0] to say they would not use any user participation in Zoom
meetings or other user data to train their models. But as is so
frustratingly common in the incredibly long and legal language laden
terms of service, Zoom reserves the right to change the terms at any
point. Only suggesting that users “regularly check” for updates to
ensure their security and rights are not taken from them. This points to
the constant struggle in the power dynamic between corporations and
users. Zoom has abused their household name for profit, knowing that
users will not be able to understand the change of terms of service or
have an option to use any other software.

Sadly, such corporate bullying by Big Tech is nothing new. Technology
users are presented with complex terms and conditions constantly merely
to engage in the most simple operations. A recent analysis showed that
it could take up to 30 hours just to read the entirety of Zoom's terms
and conditions [1]. And, if you haven't gotten some training in reading
contracts, it's unlikely you'll be sure what you're really agreeing to,
and even with such knowledge and training, we estimate it would take
about 50-100 person hours to really understand every implication on
rights, privacy, and freedom of Zoom's terms. It's thus no surprise that
it took the press months (from March to August) [2] to realize that the
clause granting Zoom a “perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive,
royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license and all other
rights” to use all Customer Content for “machine learning, artificial
intelligence, training, testing,” and a variety of other product
development purposes.

At SFC, we invested, because our principles (to find or build FOSS
solutions for our work) demanded it, in self-hosting alternative video
chat platforms through the pandemic (as a parallel strategy to attending
Zoom meetings by phone). It was complicated, difficult, and we got
teased and sometimes insulted by colleagues who kept questioning why it
was so important that we self-host FOSS to do the job of video
conference calls. The proprietary and for-profit nature of Zoom also has
made it subject to multiple cases of algorithmic bias [3]. The once
esoteric seeming issues are now a stark reality. Without control over
our basic infrastructure, we will become wholly reliant on companies who
prioritize profits over consumer rights. And, like Lando Calrissian,
consumers must worry that Darth Vader, at any time, may “alter our
deal”. We can do little more than “pray they do not alter it further”.
In response to this conundrum, SFC is working to mitigate the damage
that Zoom is causing to our colleagues.

Our FOSS member projects have had access to our BigBlueButton chat
server for some time. Today we are making it an official part of our
infrastructure that we provide to FOSS projects that are part of our
organization. More importantly, we announce that we are welcoming anyone
who contributes to FOSS who needs access to a video chat server they can
trust to apply for access. Finally, we are welcoming anyone who becomes
(or renews as) an SFC Sustainer [4] to also have access. Details on all
this are below.

Even more, in the coming months, we will run various online sessions
that show how we set up and configured our own BBB server and publish
tutorial information — in hopes that others can launch self-hosting
collectives and Exit Zoom!

We realize this is a small step in mitigating the damage that Zoom is
doing and has done. Big Tech's classic strategy — going back to the
1970s — is to lock users into a specific technological workflow and
software stack, and then manipulate the terms. Users become victims of
Big Tech's control of their devices and technological needs. We are
extremely concerned about individuals who run confidential support
groups, doctors who practice telemedicine, and workers who Zoom is now
telling “if your office uses Zoom, your choices now are to become a
subject in our machine learning experiments, or lose your job for not
showing up to mandatory meetings”. We hope that this action by Zoom will
finally convince the industry and governments that funding FOSS
solutions for key infrastructure is necessary — rather simply funding
more and more proprietary solutions under the full control of for-profit

# How Sustainers Get Access

Make your annual renewal using our online form [4], and (starting early
next week), you'll receive instructions on how to set up your account.

# How SFC Member Projects Get Access

Contact your Project Leadership Committee (PLC) and ask them to send you
the instructions they received.

# How FOSS Community Members Get Access

We will be providing limited access to other FOSS community members. As
you know, we are a small non-profit and do not have the resources to
provide unlimited access to our video conferencing software, but are
working to expand that through donations [5]. If you are interested in
applying for an account, you can sign up for a new account here [6] and
once you've received the email verification link, please send us an
email with the following information:

    What is the name and email you used to sign up?
    What FOSS communities are you a part of?
    What kinds of meetings do you expect you'll be hosting?
    Where do your meetings currently take place?
    How will using FOSS video conferencing help your community?

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