Amid a historic pandemic that’s rocked the world’s economy, one company has found renewed success despite a global economic shutdown.
Video conferencing app Zoom has seen participation grow to over 300 million with offices, schools, religious organizations, and even friends and families using the platform to meet up. Yet, last week the technology firm spurred a wave of backlash after announcing it will not offer end-to-end encryption for free users in order to better assist law enforcement, subsequently raising questions surrounding privacy, cronyism, and Zoom’s pattern of profiteering.
In a call with investors on June 2, Chief Executive Officer Eric Yuan said end-to-end encryption, which provides the highest level of digital security for communication, would only be available to their paying customers. “Free users,” Yuan said, “For sure, we don’t want to give [them] that because we also want to work together with the FBI, with local law enforcement, in case some people use Zoom for a bad purpose.”
Yuan was referring to Zoom’s security vulnerabilities which have allowed uninvited guests to infiltrate calls (known as Zoom bombing) and child predators to live stream abuse. Yet the decision struck a tone-deaf chord among activists with the recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and nationwide calls to end police brutality over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. So, what do these new privacy changes mean for organizers and activists?
"Essentially, Zoom is creating a paywall for privacy,” Brandon Forester, National Organizer for Internet Rights and Platform Accountability at MediaJustice, tells Supermaker in an email. “They are saying—in this moment with law enforcement daily ramping up violent attacks and surveillance on Black dissent and organizing—that they believe it's necessary to give police access to the private conversations of only those who use Zoom's services for free. When so many are raising their voices urging institutions and corporations to divest from their relationships with racist and anti-Black police, it's an almost impressively ill-informed decision to make and say out loud."