Zoom to Provide End-to-End Encryption for All Users After Privacy Backlash
Zoom, the popular video conferencing platform, announced on Wednesday that it has decided to provide end-to-end encryption to all users, not just those who pay for a subscription. It’s coming to both free and paid users, Zoom says, and it will be a toggle switch that any call admin can turn on or disable, in the event they want to allow traditional phone lines or older conference room phones to join.
The video platform exploded in popularity after coronavirus-related lockdowns and is now seeing as many as 300 million daily users – up from just 10 million in December.
With increased instances of “Zoom-Bombing”, where trolls attack users on the app with slurs and offensive imagery, Zoom had concerns that encryption (for free users) would obscure the identities of users and affect its ability to enforce security measures in the app. The company’s CEO, Eric Yuan, had explained that Zoom planned to exclude free calls from end-to-end encryption because it would make it difficult for the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to access the data on free calls.
After Yuan’s previous announcement to exclude free calls from encryption services, Zoom faced criticism from civil liberties organizations, child safety advocates, encryption experts, and government representatives. “Basic security shouldn’t be a premium feature that’s only available to wealthy individuals and big corporations,” said Evan Greer, the deputy director at the digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future.
To address these concerns while still allowing for encryption and privacy, Zoom will require free users to sign up using a phone number to receive a one-time text message verification. “To make this possible, Free/Basic users seeking access to E2EE will participate in a one-time process that will prompt the user for additional pieces of information, such as verifying a phone number via a text message,” Zoom explains in its blog post. “Many leading companies perform similar steps on account creation to reduce the mass creation of abusive accounts. We are confident that by implementing risk-based authentication, in combination with our current mix of tools — including our Report a User function — we can continue to prevent and fight abuse.”
It’s not clear when the feature will launch for all users, but the beta is arriving in July and Zoom intends to have some level of permissions so account administrators can disable or enable it at the account or group level.
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