Zoom, a product of Zoom Video Communications, has seen its lot soar in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and as of today, it is the most popular videoconferencing tool. In the current work-from-home environment, small businesses use zoom to connect, while academic institutions have turned to zoom for their online class delivery. Zoom was recently ranked first among free apps on Apple’s App Store, ahead of Google and WhatsApp. Last week, the company claimed it had reached 200 million daily users. An article in Forbes magazine on 30 March 2020 stated that 90,000 schools use Zoom.
But will zoom continue to flourish and leave its competitors in the dust? To be sure, the features of zoom that have contributed to its success include free, 40-minute conference with up to 100 participants. The software is relatively easy to use, as you do not need to login in order to access a meeting. The interface is relatively intuitive.
The platform has encountered a few challenges in its short life span. Because passwords are not required in order to join a call, random, uninvited people could drop into zoom calls and broadcast offensive materials, in a phenomenon known as “Zoombombing.” With a search tool, you could locate hundreds or thousands of scheduled zoom meetings worldwide, and you would be able to join any of them even if you were not invited. The problem has gotten serious enough to attract the attention of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). On March 30, the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James sent a letter to Zoom outlining several privacy concerns.
Zoom has also been plagued by reports that the software illegally sends user’s data to Facebook and sharing LinkedIn information, even for users using fake names. These concerns made some investors to sell last week, pulling the stock down by twenty percent in three days.
There are more problems, such as degradation in video quality and difficulty in connecting to zoom, while the company’s online help center seems to be unable to cope with the demands for support. The company has also engaged in deceptive advertising, when it claims that its tool has end-to-end encryption, when it doesn’t. Moreover, as Forbes notes, “Apology and clarification blog posts have become too common at Zoom in recent days.”
According to The Washington Post newspaper, thousands of Zoom cloud recordings have been exposed on the web “because of the way Zoom names its recordings,” and many have been posted onto unprotected Amazon Web Services (AWS) buckets, enabling you to find them via an online search. “One search engine that can look through cloud storage space turned up more than 15,000 Zoom recordings,” according to The Washington Post.
With all the prospects and challenges alluded to above, it is tempting to predict the future of Zoom. The technology of videoconferencing is not difficult at all, so the barrier to fending off competitors is not at all formidable. Moreover, there are many competing tools: WebEx, Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, Vimeo, and so on, and some of these are much more mature and advanced compared to Zoom. (Zoom apparently got its break from the free offer.)
When the CEO of Zoom, Eric Yuan, first arrived in the US from China, he reportedly took up employment with WebEx for four years before leaving to form Zoom to do precisely what WebEx does. So, it would seem that Mr. Yuan “had some help.” The question could be on one’s mind as to how much of WebEx’s technology Mr. Yuan carried away with him when he left WebEx to form Zoom. Does Zoom really possess intrinsic innovation juice of its own, or is it all to the glory of WebEx? These issues are important because they could tell you whether or not Zoom will be able to fix the problems it is currently having and those it would have in the future.
Zoom’s presence in China can be a very tricky matter. On the one hand, it gives the company an added advantage over its competitors, many of which are banned from operating in China. The other side of Zoom’s presence in China is the trust that can be placed on the company. As a company in China, Zoom will be required by the Chinese government to collect and hand over data? Thus, I can see how institutions in the US dealing with sensitive data will think twice before exposing themselves to Zoom. This is reminiscent of the problem that Huawei is having with the US government. Tesla and NASA, to name a few, have already decided they would not be using Zoom.
Zoom is very popular among US schools, from primary through tertiary institutions. Ordinarily, educational institutions are less concerned about national security than do government agencies. They are also less concerned about their data ending up in a foreign country. In fact, many universities that opted for Zoom probably never thought about the issues discussed in this article. Harvard reportedly uses Zoom for its online class delivery, so does my own institution. Going forward, a few schools might have a second thought.
The future of Zoom will depend on the company’s ability to resolve the various issues discussed in this article.