At this point in the coronavirus pandemic, it seems everyone – across every age group – has been on at least one video call. Despite the benefits of video apps, there have been unfortunate consequences too. Thanks to Zoombombing, it’s been brought to our attention that our quick attempt to adapt has often sacrificed security. As the need to connect via video grows steadily, and as more tools are introduced, it’s important to be aware of the common security and privacy pitfalls. Here’s a guide offering a short breakdown of the most popular video tools to help you choose what video apps are best for you.
How to evaluate video-conferencing apps privacy and security
One of the most defining criteria for evaluating the privacy of a video-conferencing platform is end-to-end encryption. When this is in place, communicating is encrypted by the sender so no third party can decipher the data communicated or stored. Whatever is said or shared via video is for the true users’ and recipients‘ eyes and ears only. A factor that’s especially important for anyone hosting video conferences for corporate communications.
It’s also crucial to find out if the tool provider collects or stores personal information and if so, what is done with said information. For example, you’ll want to know if your data is being sold to third parties or advertisers. Providers should comply with privacy frameworks already in place like the European GDPR and California’s Consumer Privacy Act. In addition, determine if the video call host can collect or store your personal information.
Choosing video-conferencing apps for working from home
Although its many privacy issues have made the news, Zoom is still one of the most popular video apps. It’s free, has no software to download, and supports group chats for up to 100 participants. Despite Zoom’s efforts to resolve recent problems, security and privacy issues continue. If you do use the tool, make sure to follow some recommended steps for better safety.
For many of us, Skype used to be the go-to for video chats. Owned by Microsoft since 2011, there is Skype for Business (available until July 31, 2021), supporting large group chats and a free version supporting up to 50. Hosts need to have an account (invitees don’t) and have control over who can join a video call. Although sessions are encrypted, protecting users from potential eavesdropping, they are only encrypted between the user’s device and Microsoft’s servers. So technically, Microsoft could have access to your communications. There are a few other security vulnerabilities that can be abated by for example, by using a VPN and making sure your Skype is up-to-date.
Google has just announced that its video-conferencing service, Google Meet (previously Hangouts Meet) is now free for anyone with a Google account. For now, the free version supports calls of up to 100 people for of any length of time but this will change come October. Meet offers the same protections that Google normally adheres to regarding privacy. User data and video meetings are encrypted in transit and the tool offers default anti-abuse features for extra safety.
Office 365 users can video conference via Microsoft Teams (the Skype for Business replacement) with up to 250 members and host live presentations for up to 10,000. In terms of privacy, Microsoft claims Teams data is not used to provide ads, it doesn’t track participant attention, and all data is deleted once your subscription ends. Hosts can manage who participates and who has access to meeting information. Additionally, Microsoft states “we encrypt data in transit and at rest, storing your data in our secure network of datacenters and using Secure Real-time Transport Protocol (SRTP) for video, audio, and desktop sharing.”
Choosing video apps for connecting with friends and family
If everyone you need to chat with owns an Apple device FaceTime is worth considering, especially for privacy. The app uses end-to-end encryption so according to Apple’s policy, it doesn’t have a way to view your chats.
A free and open source platform Jitsi Meet offers an easy way to connect with up to 75 participants. Users don’t need to download anything to set up a video call and invitees are sent a URL to join. Security features include password protecting meetings to avoid unwanted guests and in terms of privacy, video calls are protected with hop-by-hop encryption. This means anything en route to the server is encrypted, then decrypted on the server, and re-encrypted and sent to the video participants. Only those maintaining the server have the chance to eavesdrop.
Facebook Messenger Rooms
Just launched, the Messenger Rooms app allows anyone with a Facebook account to host a video meeting and invite others to join, even those not on Facebook. The room creator controls who enters, either by opening a room to their Facebook friends or specifically sending invitations. Rooms can be locked to avoid access from unwanted attendees and will eventually be able to host up to 50 participants for any amount of time. Built on Messenger, the video app is not end-to-end encrypted and Rooms collects user data whether one has joined via app or logging into an account.
Whichever video app you decide to use, have a look at what privacy features are available to configure in the settings and always make sure you are using the most up-to-date version to ensure you are protected by the latest security patches. An easy way to manage your safety and privacy is with Avira Free Security, an all-in-one tool that includes antivirus, free VPN, software updater, and more.