"While there are differences among the privacy policies of the different platforms, on balance, the differences aren't enormous," says Bill Fitzgerald, a privacy researcher in Consumer Reports' Digital Lab who analyzed the documents. "And from a privacy point of view, none of these options are great."
According to their privacy policies, all three companies can collect data while you're in a videoconference, combine it with information from data brokers and other sources to build consumer profiles, and potentially tap into the videos for purposes like training facial recognition systems.
All of the companies responded to questions by Consumer Reports, saying that they respect consumer privacy without refuting our core findings. Cisco, for example, said that "privacy is a basic human right, and we never rent or sell our customers' information." Some companies have made improvements. While we were evaluating the platforms, Google gave hosts in Meet the option to require a password to enter a meeting. That was a welcome change; until then, it was harder for Google users to secure their meetings against intruders.
Consumer Reports is writing to Cisco, Google, and Microsoft with a number of recommendations on how to improve their privacy policies, and publishing a complete report on what we found. We think the reforms we're proposing also make sense for teleconferencing platforms we haven't evaluated, from Facebook's recently announced Messenger Rooms to Houseparty, which calls itself a "face-to-face social network."
You can see more details below. But first, there are steps you can take to protect your privacy while using any videoconferencing service.