Zoom bows to activists, enables end-to-end encryption for all

With the COVID-19 pandemic radically shifting how and from where people do their jobs, Zoom has become a popular platform for remote communication. Concerns have been raised, however, about the company’s ability to ensure secure and private communication for its customers. As a way of attempting to assuage concerns of consumers and privacy activists, Zoom spoke of its soon-to-be-implemented end-to-end encryption for users. There was controversy with this announcement as it came with caveats. Only premium (i.e. paying) users would be allowed to have access to this feature.

As quoted by the Guardian, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said the following in a call with analysts:

Free users for sure we don’t want to give [end-to-end encryption] because we also want to work together with FBI, with local law enforcement in case some people use Zoom for a bad purpose.

Naturally, this enraged the privacy community as they hold that privacy is a basic human right regardless of income. The backlash to this decision by Zoom has been swift condemnation and mobilization of campaigns to try to change the company’s policy. The most notable result of this is an open letter from Mozilla and the Electronic Frontier Foundation signed by over 19,000 Internet denizens. The letter read in part as follows:

Best-in-class security should not be something that only the wealthy or businesses can afford. Zoom’s plan not to provide end-to-end encryption to free users will leave exactly those populations that would benefit most from these technologies unprotected. Around the world, end-to-end encryption is already an important tool for journalists and activists that are living under repressive regimes and fighting censorship. We recognize that Zoom’s business model includes offering premium features for paid accounts, but end-to-end encryption is simply too important to be one of those premium features.

The campaign was a success, as Zoom announced on June 17 that it would allow all users access to end-to-end encryption. Zoom’s decision is probably due to financial reasons. The bad publicity is not something the company needs as they are the most popular video conferencing service for businesses. If they suddenly start hemorrhaging customers, both paying and free, they will likely lose money and have permanently damaged their reputation.

Even if it was for business reasons, the change in Zoom’s policy is a welcome one.

Featured image: Zoom

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