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If there is one tech company that has became the icon of the Great Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020, it is Zoom. At one time or another, just about every American household has used it. If you weren’t using it for business meetings and weekly calls as a result of the new WFH reality, you were using it for your kids to connect with their teachers and coaches. The look and feel of Zoom became so ubiquitous, in fact, that it was impossible to avoid a mention of Zoom in the mainstream media anytime you turned on the TV or surfed the Web. By mid-summer, it seemed, everyone was talking about Zoom. If Zoom is to keep up the momentum in 2021, however, it will have to take into account one of the key issues plaguing it at the moment: security and privacy.
Zoom security and privacy breaches
Once everyone started talking about Zoom this year, it was perhaps inevitable that a series of malicious and malevolent online actors – including trolls, hackers and cybercriminals – would begin targeting Zoom. Overall, the process was known as “Zoombombing,” and it was the cyber equivalent of tossing a live grenade into a group of random people. Trolls used “Zoombombing” to leave racist and hate speech content during live Zoom calls of church groups, nonprofit institutions and organizations allied with certain demographic groups. Hackers went one step further, leaving vile pornographic content for kids and teachers. And cybercriminals attempted to steal user profile information during calls for other nefarious uses. Things got so bad by April 2020 that mainstream news organizations like the New York Times were calling Zoombombing a “horrifying new trend.” And even the FBI got into the act, trying to track down these Zoombombers.
Zoom security fixes
To its credit, Zoom moved quickly to stop these Zoombombing attacks. But was it a case of too little, too late? As a first emergency stop-gap measure, Zoom announced that it was putting a 90-day moratorium on all new features until it had figured out a way to stop these attacks. It also turned off certain default features that hackers were using to infiltrate Zoom calls. And it also outlined a series of best practices for users to follow when conducting Zoom calls – such as warning users not to share links to upcoming calls on social media or public forums.
The biggest fix, however, was a new security feature that enabled users to temporarily pause meetings. During this pause, hosts could kick out Zoombombers from meetings and keep others on the calls from being subjected to obnoxious or disgusting content. All they had to do was click the “Suspend Participant Activities” icon, and they would make it impossible for Zoombombers to leave behind shocking videos and disruptive content.
Other competitors join the fray
Unfortunately, a single feature fix may not be enough for Zoom. As might be expected, Zoom was such a hit during the pandemic that other Silicon Valley rivals joined the fray. Both Google and Facebook, for example, rapidly ramped up plans and strategies for taking out Zoom. It’s a story we’ve seen before – once an app, feature or product becomes popular enough, the big Silicon Valley players will attempt to co-opt it with an app, feature or product of its own. And if that doesn’t work – they will simply acquire the company outright.
So get ready for a very competitive 2021 ahead. Keep an eye on Zoom’s stock price (now up nearly 500% this year!!!) for signs that Wall Street investors are suffering their own form of “Zoom fatigue.” And, of course, keep your eyes on news from Facebook or Google, as they attempt to co-opt Zoom with their own offerings. Zoom might end up being the online video version of Snapchat – a company that seemed to have everything positive ahead of it, only to see things fall apart once the rest of the tech industry woke up to the Next Big Thing.