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The importance of clear communication: Lessons from Adobe and Zoom

Two confused men using a tin can phone with question marks above their heads, illustrating communication difficulties.

Posted by Vikki

June 15, 2024

The relationship between you and your clients is built on trust. A critical aspect of building and maintaining this trust lies in how companies communicate changes to important information, such as terms of service. Recent incidents involving Adobe and Zoom highlight how important it is to use plain language and to make sure content is unambiguous. Here’s what happened and what we can learn from these examples.

Adobe’s Terms of Service controversy

Creative software leader Adobe recently updated its terms of service. The update required users to agree to allow Adobe access to their content through “automated and manual methods.” Many Adobe users interpreted this as giving Adobe rights to use their creative work for AI training, which caused widespread concern and backlash within the creative community.

Key issues:

  • Perceived ownership claims: Adobe users feared Adobe might claim ownership of their work or use it without explicit consent. This perception created significant concern among creative professionals who rely on Adobe’s software for their livelihood.
  • Lack of clarity: The legal jargon used in the terms was confusing, and it was hard for users to fully interpret the implications. Many users simply didn’t understand how their content might be used. This led to mistrust and frustration.
  • Forced acceptance: The requirement for users to agree to these terms to continue using Adobe software left users feeling trapped between needing the software for their work and disagreeing with the terms presented.

Adobe’s response:

Responding to the backlash, Adobe clarified that they don’t claim ownership of user content and don’t use it to train AI models. However, the damage had already been done, and many users felt their trust had been violated.

Zoom’s Terms of Service confusion

Zoom, the widely used video conferencing platform, also faced a similar issue. Changes to its terms of service suggested that Zoom might use data from recorded meetings for purposes including AI training. This led to significant concerns about privacy and data security among its users.

Key issues:

  • Data privacy concerns: Users were worried that Zoom might use their confidential conversations and data without consent. This fear particularly affected businesses and individuals discussing sensitive information over Zoom.
  • Ambiguity in terms: The updated terms were not clear, which led to widespread misunderstanding. Users didn’t understand the scope and intent of the changes, fueling anxiety and speculation.
  • Poor communication: The lack of clear and transparent communication from Zoom intensified users’ concerns. They felt left in the dark about the specifics of how their data might be used.

Zoom’s response:

Zoom clarified that it does not use meeting recordings to train AI models and emphasized its commitment to user privacy. However, this incident highlighted the need for better communication strategies.

Lessons learned

These incidents stress how critical it is to communicate clearly and transparently, not only when it comes to terms of service, but in any communication. Here are some key takeaways for businesses:

  • Use plain language:

    • Legal jargon can be confusing and intimidating. It’s important to communicate in plain language that all users can understand. Simplifying the language helps users feel more comfortable and reduces the risk of misinterpretation.
    • In terms of service, provide clear examples to illustrate how data will be used. This makes it easier for people to make informed decisions.
  • Be transparent and specific:

    • Clearly outline what data you will access, how you will use it, and what you will use it for. Transparency builds trust with your clients and reassures them you don’t have hidden agendas.
    • Avoid ambiguous language that can lead to multiple interpretations and misunderstandings. Specificity helps give clients a precise understanding of what they are agreeing to.
  • Ensure explicit consent:

    • Instead of forcing users to accept terms without fully understanding them, provide detailed explanations and seek explicit consent. This approach respects users’ autonomy and promotes a more ethical business practice.
    • Allow your customers to opt-in rather than opt-out, making sure they can actively agree to the terms. This helps to confirm that users understand the terms and they agree to them.
  • Communicate changes effectively:

    • Whenever you update terms of service or other user-facing documents, communicate these changes proactively and clearly. Keeping users informed in a timely manner prevents misunderstandings and builds confidence.
    • Use multiple channels (emails, pop-ups, and announcements) to ensure all users are informed. Using various mediums helps to capture the attention of different user groups and make everyone aware of the changes.
  • Engage with your users:

    • Create clear and obvious ways for people to ask questions. Open communication channels show trust and that you value user input.
    • Actively seek user feedback and be prepared to make adjustments based on their concerns. Responsive and adaptive practices demonstrate a commitment to user satisfaction and continuous improvement.

The Adobe and Zoom incidents are cautionary tales for businesses. Clear, transparent, and unambiguous communication with clients is not just good practice—it’s essential. Prioritizing plain language and clear communication helps avoid misunderstandings, builds stronger relationships with your clients, and builds trust and transparency.

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