Zoom at Your Own Risk?

According to an article by Reuters on April 1, Elon Musk has told staff at his rocket company SpaceX that they are no longer allowed to use video conferencing platform Zoom, citing “significant privacy and security concerns.” This follows a warning by US law enforcement officials that the platform may not be secure enough to protect private information from being shared on the platform.

As businesses navigate the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, videoconferencing has risen in popularity as a way to continue to hold meetings with clients and to stay in touch with remote workers. Zoom has benefited from an upsurge in popularity in recent weeks, but that is now being put to the test.

Is Zoom trustworthy for confidential client conferences? The answer is probably, with an adjustment to security settings and the use of common sense, but issues with behind-the-scenes data collection, security, and privacy abound.

Here’s a snapshot of what’s been reported:

Despite company claims to the contrary, Zoom video calls do not appear to be end-to-end encrypted. This type of security protection is widely understood to guarantee the most private form of internet communication, protecting conversations from all outside parties. According to the Zoom website, as long as you make sure everyone in a Zoom meeting uses “computer audio” instead of calling in on a phone, the meeting is secured with end-to-end encryption. But an article in The Intercept claims otherwise.

The Intercept alleges that Zoom failed to disclose that the company installed a secret web server on users’ Macs, which it also failed to remove when the client was uninstalled. According to software engineer Jonathan Leitschuh, this means that any malicious website could activate a Mac webcam with Zoom installed without the user’s permission. Apple has since stepped in to correct the problem on millions of Macs.

Zoom had allegedly also been sending data to Facebook about a user’s Zoom habits, including data about when users open the app, the device model, and which phone carrier was used when opening the app. This has been removed now, but not before a class action lawsuit was filed. Even though they corrected the issue, it calls into question Zoom’s operating practices and trustworthiness.

The platform has been making personal information available, perhaps unintentionally. The platform’s “Company Directory” setting automatically adds other people to a user’s lists of contacts if they signed up with an email address that shares the same domain. This can make it easier to find a specific colleague to call when the domain belongs to an individual company. But multiple Zoom users reported that they signed up with personal email addresses, and Zoom pooled them together with thousands of other people as if they all worked for the same company, exposing their personal information to one another.

Then there’s Zoombombing, where trolls can take advantage of open or unprotected meetings and poor default settings to take over screen-sharing and broadcast unwanted material. The FBI this week warned users to adjust their settings to avoid trolls hijacking video calls.

No doubt the management team at Zoom is working to address some of these technical concerns, and, in the words of Zoom CEO Eric Yuan: “We did not design the product with the foresight that, in a matter of weeks, every person in the world would suddenly be working, studying and socializing from home. We now have a much broader set of users who are utilizing our product in a myriad of unexpected ways, presenting us with challenges we did not anticipate when the platform was conceived.”

Zoom’s easy-to-use platform doesn’t require a download to use it, like many others, so many will be rooting for a quick fix. But in the interim…

Here are few services to consider in no particular order:

One of our clients recently postponed a video conference in light of the reported issues with Zoom and suggested a return to the good old-fashioned conference call, using the bridge software that is included with their business phones. This is great for a voice call but doesn’t allow for sharing screens for presentations or more personalized virtual meetings that use video or the tracking and recording tools that are so valuable within online applications.

For big groups, Skype is a good alternative. While its desktop app is imperfect, the mobile version is solid and it supports big groups with generous time limits (four hours per call, 100 hours per month), for free.

WhatsApp Messenger has a strong focus on privacy and is popular around the world despite its ugly user interface. While video calls aren’t its primary feature, the option is available with a four-person limit.

The Google Duo or Hangouts apps work pretty well, plugging into your existing Google contacts and accounts and letting you do straightforward, unlimited video calls. If your clients don’t want to sign up for a new account anywhere, this is a good option.

Created for paying enterprise customers, Google Meet is an upgraded version of Google Hangouts. It uses scheduled video meetings for team members, with similar features to Zoom like conference room booking, calendar syncing, and a more refined user interface.

GoToMeeting is a web conferencing service created by LogMeIn. It provides audio and video conferencing, as well as screen-sharing, but is not free.

WebEx has been arou0nd for a long time and is somewhat of an industry-standard, especially for those with a large number of team members or an exceptionally large enterprise. For a monthly fee, WebEx video conferencing service provides web conferencing and voice-calling services and enables joining meetings online or via the phone.

RingCentral is taking on Zoom in videoconferencing. RingCentral Video is a browser-based system so users don’t have to download an application to join, host, or schedule a meeting, which is a plus for most users. RingCentral can be accessed from any connected device and is integrated with business productivity tools like Google G-Suite, Slack, and others.

A popular collaboration tool that is quickly growing its user base around the world, Slack offers video conferencing features. Setting up Slack in your organization is a bigger lift and if your company isn’t already using it, making the leap just for video conferencing probably doesn’t make much sense at this point. One-on-one video chat is part of Slack’s free account, but if you’re looking for larger meetings, there is a monthly fee.

FreeConference, as its name suggests, is free and has the advantage of not requiring any software to be downloaded. You can take part in a video conferencing session from almost any device with a web browser. You can also participate in text or video chat, and use screen and file sharing, but it is limited to five people.

We understand these are challenging times and we’re all making the best of the required social distancing. We hope you find these suggestions useful and that it encourages you to continue conversations with clients, colleagues, friends, and family. We’re in the trenches every day trying to help our clients navigate the disruption and take advantage of the government aid that is available.

If you need legal help, please contact our team members, Allan Rooney, Tim Davis, Elannie Damianos, or Abbey Docherty and visit our website, where we are publishing a lot of helpful information. Stay safe.


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