Free Video Conferencing Platforms: Is it actually free?
Video conferencing has been on the rise for some time, driven by a trend of forward-thinking companies to introduce more remote working options for their employees. Nonetheless, it wasn't until the Covid-19 pandemic forced lockdowns throughout 2020 that the use of video conferencing sites skyrocketed. Some companies saw an almost 3000% rise in regular active users in the initial months of early 2020.
Many companies and their staff have been experimenting with video conferencing platforms since last year. There are many major sites as well as several smaller competitors in the industry to pick from. As a result, it is not shocking that most companies use at least two or three separate channels to collaborate with their teams, partners, and consumers. These sites have not only minimized the travel cost but also contributed to keeping the workforce productive. However, according to the Washington Post, a collection of private video calls from a common free video conferencing site are now accessible online for anyone to search. Because of lax file naming procedures, recordings of board meetings, personal conversations, telehealth appointments, and other confidential meetings assumed to be safe are easily accessible via an online search.
In the meantime, as more corporate and personal activities have migrated online as a result of the COVID-19 global health epidemic, hackers are constantly focusing on video platforms and communications. Hacking, phishing, impersonation scams, and also the use of animated GIFs to load malware code are all part of the surge of attacks.
As video communications become more common, new bugs and challenges to consumer privacy have emerged. To protect confidential business and personal information, organizations and individuals must be mindful of the costs associated with free video resources.
Common Security Concerns
In an effort to capitalize on the demand for user-friendly video software, several free video conferencing services have prioritized accessibility at the cost of protection. In certain instances, this has resulted in the removal of common protection measures from default configurations, making new users vulnerable to attack.
Since there are no meeting codes, multi-factor security, or pre-conference screening facilities, someone can easily sneak into an online video conference, grab confidential information, or crash a meeting with obscene material. This is exactly what happened during the online graduation ceremony of Oklahoma City University, where hackers disrupted a message of love and peace with racial comments and hate symbols.
Hackers might stay undetected and capture any sort of information exchanged during the meeting such as personal information, data that is exclusive to a company, financial data, and account information, etc. if the participants are not screened properly.
Alarmingly, cybercriminals don't really join meetings in order to steal personal information all the time. These criminals have started to develop malware-infected app installers that allow them to hack a user's webcam, recording keystrokes, or taking screenshots. Spying may go undetected for weeks or even months if the infected installer contains a functioning copy of the video tool.
Yes, users should be wary of malware. However, they should also expect a high level of protection and accountability from their video service provider.
Data Usage and Privacy
It is pretty apparent that tech companies gather and use data from their customers as well as web visitors. This data is highly useful and can be used or marketed for online ads. One survey claims that tech companies reap around USD 200 per American internet user. Most companies attribute almost half of their revenue to targeted ads. Meanwhile, Google's ad sales in 2019 reached a record peak of USD 33 billion. Of course, much of this has become possible by collecting and reviewing user’s data.
This information can be used for targeted advertisements. Furthermore, it can also be used to create facial or voice recognition algorithms without the user's knowledge.
Since video communication involves voice, images, video, and other elements, users must be very mindful of how their personal information is captured and used.
Boosting Security and Privacy
The most effective way to protect user’s privacy during video communications is to use a reliable operator that prioritizes security and transparency.
Undoubtedly, customers are a company's most precious asset. Hence, companies should aim for complete transparency regarding their methods of capturing, storing, using, and protecting consumer information.
Companies can follow these measures:
- Data should be stored only on encrypted servers in compliance with local rules.
- Keeping consumer data for as long as it is needed to deliver on service commitment.
- Allowing customers to choose the kind of emails they receive.
- Allowing customers to choose the type of analytics companies can perform on their results.
- Allowing customers to monitor how browser cookies are used.
Platforms should be designed to defend users from external attacks in order to better protect them. Encrypting all calls to protect information from prying eyes, checking the identities of all meeting participants, and using special usernames, meeting IDs, and self-destructing log-in passwords to keep meeting rooms safe all fall under security precautions.
Nevertheless, don’t forget to make sure to choose a video conferencing platform that prioritizes user protection and privacy to avoid the costs of data manipulation, abuse, and cyber vulnerability.