A woman looking over a coworker's shoulder and spying while he uses a laptop computer.

Viral social media posts are alleging that Zoom, a popular video-conferencing tool, lets hosts “monitor what programs users on the call are running.” So, can your boss (or friend) really see what you’re doing while you’re chatting on Zoom? Nope.

What Is “Attention Tracking” in Zoom?

Zoom does have an “attention tracking” feature that hosts can enable. If the person hosting the call enables it, they can see whether or not you’re paying attention to screen-sharing presentations. But this feature is very limited. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Zoom’s attention tracking is off by default unless a host enables it.
  • The feature tracks attention while someone is using Zoom’s screen-sharing feature. It doesn’t track attention while you’re simply video-chatting.
  • Zoom only tracks attention. Specifically, it will tell the host if someone hasn’t had the Zoom window in focus on their desktop in the last 30 seconds.
  • Zoom doesn’t tell the host which application you’re using. The host can only see whether you’ve had the Zoom window in focus on your desktop in the last 30 seconds.

In other words, this feature is intended for people giving visual presentations. If someone is giving a presentation, they can see who’s actually watching and who’s minimized the Zoom window and is doing other things. The host can’t see what those people are doing instead.

Zoom participants list showing attention tracking on a Mac.
What the host sees when attention tracking is enabled in Zoom. The gray icon to the left of each person’s name indicates that person hasn’t had the Zoom window in focus in the last thirty seconds. Zoom

Can You See Whether Attention Tracking is Enabled?

There is one issue: While the host can choose to enable or disable attention tracking, people on the call aren’t shown whether attention tracking is enabled or not. There’s no warning that you’ll be tracked in this way. We wish Zoom would display a notification or let people on the call see whether it’s enabled. People would feel more comfortable.

Ultimately, attention tracking is extremely limited. Hosts can see very little—they can only see whether you’re actively watching presentations or not. Attention tracking is similar to read receipts that show whether you’ve read messages in apps like Facebook Messenger, Apple’s iMessage, and WhatsApp.

Zoom’s official documentation offers more details about attention tracking.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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