SAN FRANCISCO: Video-conferencing application Zoom has gained newfound fame amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic as people stay at home, right from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to thousands of students.
The Silicon Valley-based company has also come under increased scrutiny over how it handles privacy and security including allowing uninvited guests to barge in on sessions.
Zoom was created by engineer Eric Yuan in 2011 and listed on the Nasdaq a year ago. Its market value has skyrocketed to $35 billion. Zoom hit the market as a tool for people working apart to collaborate on business, competing with offerings from the likes of Microsoft, Facebook, Google and others.
As people around the world stay home due to coronavirus risk, Zoom has become a go-to service for remote education, exercise classes, poker games, church services and happy hour celebrations. Couples have gotten married in zoom ceremonies, birthdays have been celebrated and funerals have been virtually attended.
According to Yuan, the number of people taking part in Zoom meetings daily eclipsed 200 million in March, up from just 10 million at the end of last year. Video calls have surged on all messaging platforms including WhatsApp, Messenger, and Google Hangouts.
Zoom lets as many as 100 people simultaneously attend a video-conference, allowing 40 minutes free and then charging for premium accounts that provide more time and features. Zoom lifted the 40-minute limit on free accounts for teachers in several countries.
The surge in Zoom use is being credited to a fear of being disconnected from schools, friends, families and others in our lives, but has raised concerns over intruders and privacy. Virtual intruders have interrupted religious ceremonies, remote classes, and other Zoom gatherings.
US media has reported that Zoom shares some data with third parties. Several US states are investigating the company’s privacy and security practices. The FBI has warned of Zoom sessions being hijacked.
Yuan vowed this week to step up data security and apologised. “We recognise that we have fallen short of the community’s and our own privacy and security expectations,” Yuan said in a message posted online.
Zoom was designed primarily for use by large businesses with their own tech teams to provide support and protection. “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,” Yuan said. “These new, mostly consumer use cases have helped us uncover unforeseen issues with our platform.”
Zoom has admitted security problems and said it still has “a ton of work” to do to fix them and restore trust in the platform.