To Zoom or not to Zoom?
Videoconferencing used to be a solution of last resort. But COVID-19 lockdowns have changed all that. Perhaps the most popular platform to emerge is Zoom: its business increased by 535% in March. But is it true that Zoom has a dark side? And what are the alternatives?
The pandemic is causing plenty of economic pain, but for the videoconferencing industry, it’s generating unexpected gains. Zoom is not only one of the most talked-about platforms, it’s perhaps also the most talked-on platform: in March, it brought together an average of 200 million participants… each day.
At incredible speed, Zoom.us has become the platform of choice for just about everyone - families, corporates and governments - to keep vital communications channels open, both on computers and smartphones.
Zoom may be easy to use, but for a number of technical reasons (including a few bugs), the platform is also easy to hack. Many experts and some officials have sounded the alarm about the service’s alleged security flaws, which could leave the door wide open to breaches of privacy.
- In early April, New York attorney general Letitia James accused Zoom of being slow to address security vulnerabilities that could allow malicious third parties to gain access to user webcams.
- Also earlier this month, major companies including NASA, SpaceX and Google banned their employees from using Zoom, citing security concerns. Perhaps a factor in Google’s case: the tech giant has its own videoconferencing platform (see below).
- The FBI, meanwhile, is investigating a wave of video hijackings – also, tellingly, known as ‘Zoombombing’ – in which hackers have infiltrated and disrupted online meetings.
- A recent lawsuit in federal court in California accused Zoom of failing to “properly safeguard the personal information of the increasing millions of (its) users.”
However, some have defended Zoom, saying the accusations that the platform itself is ‘malware’ (i.e. malicious software) make no sense. They point out that Zoom simply is a victim of its own success.
Zoom’s massively increased popularity – from 10 million to 200 million in three months – has attracted hackers, who see a business opportunity. Web analysts Webroot have found that malicious files with the word ‘zoom’ in their name have increased by 2,000% from February to March.
For its part, Zoom has received the message:
- In reaction to the negative press, Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan issued an apology on a live YouTube stream.
- The company has shifted all its resources from feature development to security improvements and has already implemented numerous changes to its settings.
- Zoom has brought in outside experts like Facebook’s former security chief Alex Stamos to help it plug its security and privacy gaps.
- The company has said it would work the authorities to address any and all security concerns.
- Zoom has also released a guideline on how to prevent video hijackings and protect webinars on its platform.
Of course, Zoom is not the only player in the booming video conferencing industry. Here are 10 alternatives, roughly in order of popularity (most operate on a freemium business model, with basic services free of charge):
- Microsoft Teams: Built into Office 365, but also available to non-Office users via free sign-up.
- Skype: Also a Microsoft product, but limited to 50 participants. Has a call recording function.
- GoToMeeting: Features audio and video sessions, screen sharing and a mobile app.
- Join.me: From the same company as GoToMeeting, suited for smaller companies.
- Cisco Webex: The free version features HD video for up to three users and 50 participants, for 40 minutes.
- BlueJeans: Cloud-based, high-quality video conferencing for smaller teams.
- Intermedia AnyMeeting: Brings together video, chat and screen-sharing on one cloud-based platform.
- Google Hangouts Meet: The business version of regular Hangouts, free for external participants.
- RingCentral: Free for up to 100 participants, unlimited one-on-one meetings and 40-minute group meetings.
- Zoho Meeting: Audio, video and screen sharing, can do webinars, training and online meetings.