Zoom is indicating that it can monitor your video calls if it suspects you’re a criminal abusing the video conferencing service.
Zoom CEO Eric Yuan brought up the matter in a Tuesday earnings call when discussing the company’s plan to roll out end-to-end encryption. The technology is designed to prevent government spies, law enforcement, and even Zoom from decrypting your video call traffic on the platform.
However, Zoom only plans to enable end-to-end encryption for paid users because it needs to work with law enforcement to stop criminals from abusing the service, Yuan said.
“Free users, for sure, we don’t want to give that (end-to-end encryption), right?” Yuan said during the call. “Because we also want to work it together, see if this with FBI, with local law enforcement, in case some people they use Zoom for the bad purpose, right?”
Yuan likely made the statement to address how his product has been a constant target of internet trolls and racists, who’ve been breaking into Zoom meetings to harass unsuspecting users. Last month, a San Franscio church sued the company after a hijacker infiltrated a Zoom Bible-study session to display child .
However, Yuan’s statement is raising alarm bells with privacy experts over potential US government surveillance on Zoom, especially as President Trump has called for a crackdown on the civil unrest breaking out across the country.
Not helping the matter is how Zoom previously said it never monitors video calls. But according to Facebook’s former chief security officer, Alex Stamos, who has been advising Zoom, free users can still expect their meetings to be protected.
In a tweet thread, Stamos said Zoom will never “proactively” monitor video calls or secretly record them. Still, the company needs to find a balance between protecting people’s privacy and stopping people from abusing the video conferencing service.
“Zoom is dealing with some serious safety issues,” Stamos said. “When people disrupt meetings (sometimes with hate speech, CSAM, exposure to children and other illegal behaviors) that can be reported by the host. Zoom is working with law enforcement on the worst repeat offenders.
“Zoom’s Trust and Safety team can, if they have a strong belief that the meeting is abusive, enter the meeting visibly and report it if necessary,” he added.
In a statement, Zoom also told PCMag that both free and paid users currently have all their video calls encrypted by default using the high-grade AES 256-bit GCM standard. “We do not share information with law enforcement except in circumstances like child sex abuse,” Zoom said. “We do not have backdoors where participants can enter meetings without being visible to others. None of this will change.
“Zoom’s end-to-end encryption plan balances the privacy of its users with the safety of vulnerable groups, including children and potential victims of hate crimes,” the company added. “We plan to provide end-to-end encryption to users for whom we can verify identity, thereby limiting harm to these vulnerable groups. Free users sign up with an email address, which does not provide enough information to verify identity.”
For people who use Zoom to host casual meetings, the controversy won’t matter. But if you’re concerned about surveillance and doubtful about Zoom’s privacy pledge, you can consider alternatives with end-to-end encryption, such as Apple’s FaceTime or the Signal chat app.