One of the major talking points when it came to video conferencing app Zoom has been the lack of true end-to-end encryption on the platform—despite initially advertising the feature. However, after apologising for “missteps” taken by the company, Zoom acquired a company with expertise in encryption and security to now offer real end-to-end encryption for video calls made over the platform.
However, the enhanced encryption standard is only applicable to paying clients, with free users and accounts missing out. End-to-end encryption is widely regarded as the gold standard of privacy for messaging apps, with data encrypted to prevent access from anyone other than the sender and receipient of messages.
So why is Zoom limiting this enhanced encryption to paying customers? Besides the obvious answer that the company is looking to push more of its user base towards premium accounts, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan explained that the move is one that will help law enforcement.
“In case some people use Zoom for a bad purpose”
The reality is privacy and inappropriate (or even illegal) content will always sit within a grey area of sorts. Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said during a recent investor meeting that the company isn’t providing end-to-end encryption for free customers in case Zoom is used for a “bad purpose”. Instead, the company wants to “work together with the FBI, local law enforcement” to help weed out illegal users.
According to The Verge, there have been cases of child predators using Zoom to live stream cases of child abuse, while U.S. legislators are also reportedly working on a bill against such encryption methods for social media. And while this makes some sense, what’s to stop these parties from signing up for a “Pro” account—at just US$14.99 (~RM64)?
A Zoom spokesperson says that this doesn’t mean that Zoom is monitoring your calls or meetings. Instead, access to certain data will only be granted to law enforcement if or when illegal happenings such as child abuse is discovered on the platform. Only users who have been verified (read: customers who have paid) will be protected by the enhanced encryption standard:
“Free users sign up with an email address, which does not provide enough information to verify identity.”
Oh, and by the way, WhatsApp supports end-to-end encryption for messages made over the platform—regardless of who you are. In fact, the company says in its FAQ that “there is no way to turn off end-to-end encryption” on WhatsApp.