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Security, data, uses… Five questions about Zoom, the videoconferencing service that is a hit

Zoom is a videoconferencing service created in the United States and used worldwide. With the Covid-19 pandemic, and containment measures applied to billions of people, its use exploded. The number of daily users of Zoom video conferences has increased from 10 million in December 2019 to 200 million in March 2020, the founder of Zoom announced on Wednesday 1er April. On March 25, Zoom was the most downloaded free smartphone application in dozens of countries, including the United States and France, according to The echoes.

  • Why such a success ?

Technically, Zoom is robust, even if sometimes complicated to understand in its entirety. The free Zoom offer allows you to hold or attend videoconferences with 100 people simultaneously, for a period of forty minutes. These videoconferences are also accessible to people who do not have accounts on Zoom: anyone can join a video session, provided they have the access URL, or the necessary credentials.

Zoom has many options (chats, screen sharing, customizable background …), but remains easily accessible, with good video and audio quality, even with a weak network, on almost all media: Internet browsers, smartphones, tablets, and even voice calls. “HD was disabled with containment. One of the priority objectives of our video software is to not consume too much bandwidth , assures Loïc Rousseau, France director of Zoom.

The company has an office employing fifteen people in Paris. The application had already proven itself in the professional and academic world. Created in 2011 in the middle of Silicon Valley by engineer Eric Yuan, “Zoom Video Communications” took off to the point of going public in April 2019 and making a remarkable start. Before the start of containment, 80,000 businesses and institutions were already using its services. Among its large customers: Uber, the clothing chain Gap, the bank HSBC, the digital giant Oracle, many universities, or Havas, Deezer and Sanofi in France.

With confinement, many employees and professionals from all walks of life, forced to switch to telework, began to Zoom. Boris Johnson himself uses it for his government meetings in the UK. There have also been cases of collective redundancies announced directly on Zoom. But its use has also gone far beyond the usual professional framework: the service is now used for virtual aperitifs, family reunions, yoga lessons, concerts, weddings … “Our whole life is on Zoom”, summed up the New york times the 17th of March.

  • Do French teachers use Zoom with their students?

Discussions with confined students or teachers, or a Twitter search, let us see: Zoom is one of the tools used by some French teachers to teach their lessons, alongside Twitch, Skype, or even WhatsApp, Snapchat and Discord.

However, the national education system has a videoconferencing system for giving distance video lessons: that of the CNED, available on the My Class at Home platform. But the latter has sometimes struggled to withstand the influx of connections in recent weeks.

In emergency and DIY, some teaching teams were able to choose Zoom as an alternative solution, because of the popularity of the application, but also because of its preferential availability for teachers. As of March 12, the day Emmanuel Macron announced the closure of French schools, Zoom decided to lift for France the limits of free accounts (in particular: the maximum duration of forty minutes of a video session) for “Schools impacted by coronavirus” who would request it.

Result: a high school in Saint-Brieuc used Zoom to give a math lesson to 47 students. And there are tutorials on the websites of some academies to organize your virtual class on Zoom.

However, the company has not had direct discussions on the subject with representatives of national education, explains to World France director of Zoom, Loïc Rousseau. The tool is not referenced in the “Digital educational resources” officially advised by the government. And the legislation that serves as a reference for questions of privacy and confidentiality of its services for virtual classes responds to those in force in the United States (Coppa and Ferpa laws).

  • Does Zoom store data in the United States?

Zoom, like almost all modern digital applications, collects personal data about its users, to analyze the use of its services or for commercial purposes. The data recorded by Zoom can be stored and hosted in the United States, the company being located in San José (California). Some of its data centers are also located in Europe, the company said. World.

Generally speaking, Zoom ensures “Do not sell” the data of its users, and comply with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). This text allows Europeans to request access to their personal data or to have recourse in case of problems.

This GDPR compliance is included in the Zoom terms of use, which have just been rewritten: if you have used Zoom recently, we advise you to take a look. We learn what data can be collected by the company: technical data on the devices used, and metadata, such as the duration of the videoconferences, the number of participants, the names and e-mails of the people registering for it …

A yoga class given on Zoom in Hong Kong on March 30. ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP

The company also provides World not to access the content of videos exchanged through its servers, or which may be stored there. The organizer of a video session on Zoom (“the presenter”) has the possibility of recording the videoconference that he organizes, with the agreement of the participants (an audible signal sounds, and a warning is displayed on screen): the generated video can be stored on his computer, or on Zoom servers directly.

Now, an article from the specialized site The Intercept, published on March 31, showed that the videos exchanged on Zoom are not actually “Encrypted” : It is technically possible for Zoom employees to have access to their content when a copy exists on their servers. The company assures, however, not to do so and “Have strong, certified access controls to prevent unauthorized access to Zoom's cloud-saved meeting recordings”. In the United States, the civil liberties NGO Access Now has already asked for more details on how these safeguards work.

  • Does Zoom have security vulnerabilities?

Zoom's services have experienced several failures and are often criticized in the matter. Critical security breaches have been detected on several occasions in recent years. One of them allowed hackers to access webcams of Zoom users without their consent. All were quickly corrected. With the explosion of uses, the application is all the more scrutinized by IT experts: in recent days, they have noted design flaws in the Zoom application for Mac or for Windows, as well as new “zero day” security vulnerabilities – which have no known fixes.

Any social application that accesses your webcam and microphone can be a privacy threat.

Investigations have also been launched in the United States to ensure that the current service settings offer sufficient privacy protections. One was launched in California, the other by the New York Attorney General on March 30. These steps come after several cases of abuse have been identified. The Zoom session sharing system by simple link is, as such, problematic: we were able to attend a videoconference to which we were not invited, simply by clicking on the corresponding link. Participants quickly realized this, however.

A family game organized on Zoom by a family from Manchester, on April 1st.
A family game organized on Zoom by a family from Manchester, on April 1st. PHIL NOBLE / REUTERS

The FBI has communicated to warn against the Zoom-bombing after receiving several reports of intrusions by individuals into collective videos: the latter posted pornographic or violent images to the participants. An American professor described the scene strangers with gritty nicknames having entered his virtual classroom. Other concerns have arisen when people have connected to Zoom conferences using their personal email address: this has exposed the data in their mailboxes (including their contacts) to other participants.

In any event, any social application that accesses your webcam and microphone can be a danger to your privacy. Regarding Zoom, it is recommended to configure the service correctly before launching and summoning colleagues, friends or students. This tutorial from the 01net site clearly explains some required options, such as: not sharing the link of a Zoom videoconference too widely; establish a password for your video conferences; activate the meeting room for meeting participants; or turn off everyone’s screen sharing to prevent them from showing anything to others.

“We did not design our service with the idea that in a few weeks the entire world population would have to work, study and socialize while staying at home. We now have many more users, who use our product in many unexpected ways: this puts us in front of challenges which we had not anticipated “, justified the boss of Zoom in the face of all these problems – announcing that his company would strive to be more transparent on these subjects.

  • Does Zoom send data to Facebook?

Yes. This happens in any case if you use your Facebook account to create an account and log in. But the specialized site Motherboard demonstrated on March 26 that Facebook also receives information from people who do not have Facebook accounts, and who use the Zoom applications installed on iPhone and iPad. Zoom indeed integrated into its iOS application a small software, provided by Facebook, which sent data to Facebook, whether or not you are connected. Criticized by many users, the founder of Zoom announced on March 27 that this piece of code would be deleted.

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