“Someday soon, we shall gather at the top of a mountain, lock arms, and shout in unison, ‘If you are not talking, could you please mute yourself?!”
— Jon Lovett
“There is no way to exchange covert glances on Zoom with one other person about the nonsense some other person is spouting, and that is 50% of how I communicate.”
— Rebecca Metz
Thank goodness for Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and the other video teleconferencing services — they kept our legal system running during the pandemic. When everything went into lockdown last March, nearly every court began conducting at least some of its hearings via telephone or teleconference. And some moved to conducting almost all of them that way.
As we emerged from the winter surge, and lots of things went back to being in person, many courts continued to hold at least some of their hearings via electronic means. Doing so served a variety of purposes. Video remote hearings eliminate the need for litigants to have reliable transportation. They cut down on the amount of time that litigants have to take off from work. They reduce costs by cutting down the travel time of attorneys getting back and forth to hearings, and they free up court schedules by permitting attorneys to be in multiple courts and multiple hearings in a single day.
But just as the pandemic caught the world unprepared, it caught Zoom unprepared for the huge increase in demand they would face. Software bugs, feature shortfalls, security issues, and other problems plagued the service as usage of their videoconferencing surged. And, as often happens, a lawsuit followed.
The class-action suit didn’t take long. It was filed in late March of 2020 in the federal district court for the Northern District of California on behalf of all of the subscribers of the paid Zoom Meetings service as well as users of the site’s free service. Among the claims was an allegation that Zoom violated its terms of service by sharing personal data of users with other technology companies, including Facebook, Google and LinkedIn.
Another portion of the complaint alleged that Zoom failed to take appropriate action to protect against Zoom-bombing of users — a practice where uninvited guests would invade Zoom meetings for the sole purpose of disrupting them. Other security issues included reports of hackers hijacking shared screens, ejecting users from meetings, and faking messages between users. Yet another claim was that Zoom used encryption software that allowed the company to spy on supposedly private calls.
Zoom denied each and every one of the claims and asked US District Judge Lucy Koh to dismiss the case in March of 2021. She agreed to dismiss claims relating to invasion of privacy and negligence, but permitted the remainder of the case to proceed. Now, attorneys for the two sides have come to a resolution of the claims.
The $86 million settlement will pay $21.3 million in legal fees to the plaintiffs lawyers, and individual settlements to users that could amount to a 15% refund on subscriptions or $25, whichever is greater. The entire settlement is subject to approval by Judge Koh, and so is not yet final. In response to news of the settlement, Zoom put out a statement that said, “We are proud of the advancements we have made to our platform, and look forward to continuing to innovate with privacy and security at the forefront.”
Should the class action be approved, notice will have to go out to potential members of the class, giving them the option to “opt out” of the settlement (preserving their right to sue Zoom independently) or to make a claim for the settlement amount. The parties will then have a set period of time to distribute the settlement monies and report back to Judge Koh as to how much of the settlement was distributed.
Zoom meetings probably aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but security is much improved, and a Zoom settlement may be coming your way.
David Hejmanowski is judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, where he has served as magistrate, court administrator, and now judge, since 2003. He has written a weekly column on law and history for The Gazette since 2005.