Zoom Beefs Up Lobbying as Privacy Concerns Accompany Growth (1)

(Updates with additional hires starting in sixth paragraph and some fixes the company announced in last two paragraphs)

Zoom Video Communications Inc. has hired Josh Kallmer away from a major tech industry group to serve as its first lobbyist, as the company faces scrutiny over its privacy practices.

Kallmer, who comes from the Information Technology Industry Council, was named Zoom’s head of global public policy and government relations, effective May 26. Kallmer’s hiring was announced at the same time it added to its board of directors former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who said his goal was to help the company become “the world’s most secure video communications platform.”

Zoom has seen a rapid rise in popularity as people work, study and socialize from home amid stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus. That boom has brought criticism from Capitol Hill about the platform’s security and the need for an advocacy effort.

Kallmer led ITI’s influence efforts worldwide. Prior to that, he was a counsel at Crowell & Moring and served as deputy assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Investment from 2007 to 2012.

“Josh’s experience and perspective will be instrumental as Zoom continues to actively engage with stakeholders in Washington, D.C., and around the world to discuss Zoom’s platform, policies, and commitments to our users, as well as other important industry-wide topics,” Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said in a statement Wednesday.

It was the latest advocacy move for the company. Zoom recently hired Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas to lobby on its behalf, according to forms filed to the Senate last week. It also hired American Continental Group, run by a lobbyist close with President Donald Trump, and The Cohen Group, where former Defense Secretary James Mattis now works, a Zoom spokesman confirmed.

“We are pleased to be supported by such strong, bipartisan firms as we continue to actively engage with policymakers in Washington, D.C., and around the world to ensure they are well informed about Zoom’s business, our strong progress on our 90-day plan to enhance safety and security, as well as other important industry-wide topics,” the spokesman said.

Photo by Michael Short/Bloomberg
Zoom CEO Eric Yuan speaks during a conference in San Francisco on Oct. 3, 2019.

Responding to Criticism

Over the past month, at least three state attorneys general, the FBI, House Oversight and Reform Committee ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have raised concerns about Zoom’s security.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wrote to the Federal Trade Commission last month to investigate Zoom for allegedly deceptive claims that users communications would be private. The Washington Post reported in early April that thousands of videos — from online therapy sessions to business meetings that revealed internal financial documents — were left vulnerable after users uploaded recorded videos outside of Zoom’s secure servers without a password.

It’s also been hit with lawsuits, including a class-action lawsuit filed on April 13 that claims that LinkedIn Corp. and Facebook Inc. were allowed to eavesdrop on Zoom conversations, and that Zoom had unlawfully shared user data with third parties.

Another lawsuit filed last month alleges that Zoom executives and developers hid shortcomings in its software’s encryption.

Yuan acknowledged in an April 1 statement the company had lapses, saying they occurred because of the unexpected and explosive growth of users due to the pandemic. He also promised that over the following 90 days the company would update and fix its security policies and be more transparent.

Since then it’s provided weekly progress reports for its 90-day plan and provided tips for ensuring meetings can be held securely in an effort to allay concerns about “Zoom-bombing,” the term given to unwanted attendees on video calls. Consumer Reports last month highlighted the changes the company made to increase security, including improved encryption methods.

Issues identified with Facebook and LinkedIn were fixed, the company wrote in two separate blog posts.

To contact the reporter on this story: Megan R. Wilson in Washington at mwilson@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com

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