The Safety Concerns regarding Zoom

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Amidst the rise of this global pandemic, E-learning has taken over almost all schools around the country, which means that many teachers nationwide are looking for ways to communicate their curriculum to students. One of the most popular tools is the videoconferencing application, Zoom. On March 23, Zoom was downloaded 2.13 million times from the Apple App Store (2 million more than the day before). Two months ago, the app averaged a relatively small 56,000 global downloads a day. However, this popularity seems to be the uprising of another issue: privacy. 

As we know, each Zoom call has a randomly generated meeting ID, about 9 to 11 numbers long, used by participants to gain access to a meeting. Researchers have found that these meeting IDs are simple enough to allow any random user to join a call without invitation, leading us to the new “Zoombombing” phenomenon, in which random users infiltrate online meetings and share indecent images or worse. This is only the start of privacy concerns for the app. 

Following this, Zoom was forced to update its iOS app settings to remove the code that sent device data to other applications like Facebook, forcing them to rewrite their privacy policy after users discovered that they were susceptible to data leakage to support target ads. On top of that, Zoom was forced to admit that they had been misleading people on their website with their “secure end-to-end encryption during virtual meetings”. A Zoom spokesperson left a statement to The Intercept saying, “It is not possible to enable E2E encryption for Zoom video meetings”, revealing that Zoom actually uses transport encryption, which means that the Zoom service itself can access the unencrypted video and audio content of Zoom meetings. 

As these issues are brought to light, Zoom faces huge privacy and security backlashes as security experts, privacy advocates, lawmakers, and even the FBI warn that the Zoom software is breaching data from its users. 

In response to this, CEO Eric Yuan said that Zoom “takes user privacy, security, and trust extremely seriously,” and that the company “recently updated the default settings for education users enrolled in our K–12 program to enable waiting rooms and ensure teachers are the only ones who can share content in a class by default.” Yuan also “recognized that we have fallen short of the community’s — and our own — privacy and security expectations.”

But what can we do to protect ourselves on Zoom? With the new features that have been added to the application, there are many ways to ensure a secure, virtual meeting:

  • Utilize the new “Waiting room” feature. This allows you to control who can join your meetings at any time. 
  • Don’t use your Personal Meeting ID for Public meetings. The PMI is the default ID given to you, which can only be changed if you change it yourself, but it’s only useful when you need a way for people to reach you at any time. 
  • Require a password to join Zoom meetings. This takes meeting security even further, to ensure that only those with the password can join the meeting.

By utilizing these features, we can establish a safe environment for all users to interact with each other while maintaining social distance during this unprecedented pandemic.