Protecting donor privacy in the COVID-19 era

April 1, 2020

Nonprofit organizations are under constant threat from activists and politicians who want to create laws that would force those groups to publicly disclose their donor lists. But there are an increasing number of other ways that the government may be able to force groups to reveal their members and supporters.

As organizations move their day-to-day communications to video conferencing services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that is impacting every corner of the United States, it’s important to be aware of the privacy policies of the technology platforms being used to stay connected with employees, board members, customers, and stakeholders.

A recent Nonprofit Quarterly article highlighted the privacy policies of the very popular virtual meeting service, Zoom, which requires users to share a significant amount of personal data in exchange for using the service. In giving up this information, your name and personal information could be revealed to the government.

In its policy, the company claims the right to collect information from all Zoom session participants that includes name, username, physical address, email address, phone numbers, job information, credit card information, Facebook profile information, information about the computer and internet connection, and buying and browsing habits.

Zoom claims the right to give up all this information “responding to a legally binding demand for information, such as a warrant issued by a law enforcement entity of competent jurisdiction, or as reasonably necessary to preserve Zoom’s legal rights.”

In other words, your meeting’s participants’ information will be turned over to the government if the government demands it. Period. Any organization or institution using Zoom should determine whether it’s tolerable for the government to have all this information about the people who are on your call and, ethically, should inform everyone on a Zoom call of this fact.

Other online meeting programs have similar policies, although there are several services available that offer stronger privacy protections and don’t require users to give up as much personal information. Nonprofit Quarterly mentioned a few other options in their article.

Our way of working and communicating is changing rapidly in response to the current crisis. As nonprofit organizations make decisions about the technology they use to operate in this new environment, it’s critical to consider the privacy policies of those providers and what that may mean for donors and supporters.

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