What after Zoom? After privacy concerns, what alternatives people have

By Shriya Roy :

The happy days for Zoom came to an end as the app came under scrutiny for privacy issues, with users hinting that it might violate privacy standards.

The Kovid-19 outbreak has fundamentally changed people’s relationship with others and the outside world. Not only this, the global epidemic is also slowly changing people’s use of the Internet. From conference calls to video chat, chat apps have become an essential tool in re-structured social structures around the world.

With its usage boom in the past few weeks, Zoom’s video conferencing app gained popularity as the app was exceptionally poised for an epidemic-like situation. Zoom was being used not only for work, but also for social ceremonies, cultural events, etc. If you pay for an extended version, the app is allowed up to 100 people on call and up to 500.

But all was not well. The happy days for Zoom came to an end as the app came under scrutiny for privacy issues, with users hinting that it might violate privacy standards. The Government of India said in a notification to the Union Home Ministry that the app is ‘unsafe’ and vulnerable to cyber crimes. The notification asked government employees to refrain from using it for meetings. India’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) also voiced concern over possible cyber attacks through Zoom. However, the application responded to the circular of MHA, saying that it is very serious about user safety.

Now the big question is: what is the zoom option? Is this a dead end? not enough. Going a step further, the central government has launched a video conferencing app development challenge for Indian companies with a prize money of Rs 1 crore. A “innovation challenge for the development of video conferencing solutions” has been initiated by the government to facilitate work from home. Video conferencing apps need to be able to work on any kind of device, in poor network areas, have encrypted communication and use less power. The results of the government’s challenge will be announced on July 29. The winning team will be given Rs 1 crore for providing the app for use by the central and state governments across India and a certificate by the Minister of Electronics and Information Technology. The government says that the app will serve as an alternative to zoom.

Then there is the group video chat app HouseParty, which has become a favorite with the younger generation, because through it they can chill with multiple people at once like a normal house party. The app also has integrated games that allow users to play with each other and allow up to eight people to be together on one call. However, the app, too, came under the radar when users complained that it enabled hacking. In response, the app company announced a multi-million dollar reward for anyone who could prove that the allegations were part of a smear campaign.

The already existing Google Hangouts has also received hits, as quarantine has forced more and more people to virtually socialize. The video platform allows up to 25 people and can be accessed through an app, Gmail, or other Google accounts. Although connectivity is an issue, it is the most easily accessible app. Also, it is easy to use if you have a Google account. In terms of privacy, it is more secure than other apps, as it follows Google’s high privacy standards.
FaceTime, a mobile app native to iPhones, iPads and Mac desktops, allows up to 32 people to be received on a video conference call. The app has been around for a long time now, but with lockdown restrictions in place, it has once again gained traction. FaceTime comes in handy because it comes preinstalled if you have an iPhone and can be used internationally on a data connection like WhatsApp.

Another new app doing the rounds is Bunch, a group video and games app that allows up to eight people to participate at once. The user interface is colorful and brilliant, and includes various games such as trivia, billiards and more. Bunch creates the experience of partying with friends over video chat and jumping together in a single game session. Selkuk Attlee, CEO, Bunch said, “The best games are operating as social networks.”

Then there are chat apps which are helping people to cope with isolation and loneliness especially during this time. Take the QuarantineChat application, for example. Two artists and long-distance friends, Daniel Beskin and Max Hawkins, created the free digital voice service in 2019 to help connect people around the world. By downloading Dialup, the app that hosts QuarantineChat, people can subscribe to calls from time to time that can randomly pair them with a chat partner who is also at home. “We thought our app would be great for combating the feelings of disconnection,” Beskin and Hawkins said.

As most businesses operate, the design community has discovered a unique way of working from home as well as keeping in touch. Architects report that working from home means less communication with the rest of the team and the impossibility of coming to the building site. The ArchChat app bridges this gap. The app was launched in January this year and is free for architects, designers, engineering consultants and their clients. This helps users to chat privately in a preferred language and view related communications for each drawing, design, etc. for a project space. For example, chats related to the living room will be inside the ‘living room’ folder. For now, ArchChat is the only communication platform to collaborate on design and construction projects.

In addition to regular chat and video-call apps, group virtual movie nights on Netflix are also helping people stay in touch. The Google Chrome browser extension, Netflix Party, gives many Netflix users the experience to watch and watch movies on the platform simultaneously and have fun with friends. Dating apps such as Tinder, Hinze and Bumble have also moved to the video call / dating feature, as the lockdown ban requires one to stay at home.

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