Free Users May Lose Zoom’s Encryption Protection

*To demand free users’ detailed information

By Emma Okonji

Zoom has announced that those who use its video platform for free will no longer have encrypted calls, according to a Forbes report.

Zoom is considering end-to-end encryption of the data of all free users of its platform for security reasons that will enable it comply and work with local law enforcement agencies as well as the FBI in the event that Zoom would be used for malicious reasons.

Although the online platform has given security as the reason for its planned action, some industry players are of the view that the change may compel Zoom to begin to ask for information from free users and give them the same encryption as their paid users.

According to Zoom, those who use the video platform for free would no longer have encrypted calls and this new change would happen sooner than later. The reasoning behind this change, according to the company, is that they want to be able to comply and work with local law enforcement agencies as well as the FBI in the event that Zoom would be used for malicious reasons.

Those who use Zoom for free merely need to provide an email address, therefore not providing adequate information in order to help verify the identity of somebody. This new rollout will only provide end-to-end encryption to individuals with full verifiable accounts, a source close to Zoom said.

Worried by the new development, industry analysts said Zoom could ask for the same information from their free users and give them the same encryption as their paid users. They are of the view that the new initiative from Zoom seemed more like a marketing tactic than a compliance concern, a development, they said, could be worrisome.

They are more concerned that the development could force small businesses who may not be able to pay for using the Zoom platform, to start considering using other communication platforms for their online meetings.

Reacting to analysts fears that Zoom may soon begin to charge free users of its platform, the company said it would continue to use encryption technology on its platform for all users. AES 256-bit GCM encryption, which is one of the most secure encryption standards used today, is currently enabled system-wide and is available to all users – both free and paid.

“Regarding contacting law enforcement, Zoom only responds to valid law enforcement requests. When we receive a request for information, Zoom’s policy is to comply only if the request follows a valid legal process and there is proper jurisdiction. Zoom’s policy precludes responding to requests where there is inadequate legal process, for example when authorities lack jurisdiction or when requests are overbroad.

Zoom does not eavesdrop on users’ meetings. We also do not let law enforcement listen into meetings. Any reports to the contrary are categorically false. Zoom does not proactively monitor meeting content and we do not have backdoors where anyone — including employees — can enter meetings without being visible to others via the meeting participant list,” Zoom said in its response.

It added; “As for end-to-end encryption, this is still a work in progress. We are currently listening to feedback from child safety advocates, civil liberties organisations, encryption experts, and law enforcement, and will provide an updated white paper incorporating this feedback soon.”

The Zoom platform, which has been in existence for some some few years, but not used by many organisations and businesses, suddenly became the trusted online platform where organisations hold online video conferences and meetings, following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in December 2019, from Wuhan in China, that compelled global economies to lockdown.

Most organisations and government agencies use Zoom for their online meetings, which analysts says it has become the new normal while maintaining social distancing and avoiding physical meetings in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

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