Three weeks ago, many Americans had never heard of Zoom. The app was immensely popular among those for whom tele-conferencing is a business must, but that’s about it. Now, with millions of Americans working from home, including teachers trying to connect remotely with tens of millions of students, the platform has become an almost ubiquitous virtual-conferencing tool.
That short-term surge in usage—especially among those completely unversed in the technology—has created a host of challenges for the video-conferencing provider’s creators, including a series of public public relations issues involving invasions of privacy.
First it was revealed that there were security holes in the platform that allowed hackers to potentially gain access to users’ systems. Then many Zoom users became the target of “zoombombing” attacks, a phenomenon where trolls deliberately invade Zoom events and disseminate hate speech or other offensive content.
“We recognize that we have fallen short of the community’s and our own privacy and security expectations,” CEO Eric Yuan said in an April 1 blog post, “I am deeply sorry.”
That was just the beginning of the message. The San Jose-based company’s production and development team understand there will be a lot more people—especially those unfamiliar with the app—using it over the next several weeks, perhaps months. Some of those people, many in fact, will be children. Because of this, Zoom’s communications team says their developers will “stop adding new features” over the next 90 days and focus entirely on how to “address privacy issues” for users on the app.
In addition to this aspirational communication, Zoom also committed to produce and distribute a “transparency report,” listing data or content requests from the government, which is something other large tech companies, such as Facebook and Google, put out. These are smart steps that need to be made before Zoom’s Consumer PR shifts back to highlighting all the positive comments the company has received for the app’s ease of use and robust video conferencing features.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic spread and people were forced to quarantine or operate on a social distancing basis, many have been hosting Zoom parties for social gatherings and events ranging from religious services to brunches, birthday parties and even political meetings.
That kind of growth spike brings with it unanticipated challenges and opportunities for bad actors to take advantage of people using the technology for the first time. As with personal computers, tablets, gaming consoles and other devices, most users jump on without a full understanding of either the capabilities of the platforms or their potential vulnerabilities. Zoom and other services that consumers are using now more than ever need to be aware of this dynamic and communicate effectively to reduce the potential for any more security issues.