Zoom into our lives

With concerns over privacy, is the Chinese app masking data mining and surveillance?

Months before the deadly Coronavirus virus struck the world, we had never even heard of Zoom, the US-based video conferencing app that was first founded in 2011 by a Chinese immigrant Eric S Yuan. With countries facing a nationwide lockdown, almost the entire world population was compelled to work from home and it is here that it became a critical component of an enabling technological infrastructure. So much so that after TikTok and Whatsapp, it ranked as the third-largest downloaded app. According to data, in India itself, in the 10 days between March 1 and 11, when work from home arrangements were just beginning to kick in, there were 1.25 lakh Zoom downloads. But at the same time, concerns regarding an increasing dependence on this platform were already red-flagged. In fact, there are serious questions about privacy and security. This is why the Union Government’s latest advisory warning against the usage of the application as it was “unsafe” and “vulnerable to cyber crimes” doesn’t spring a surprise. But the popularity of the app cannot be denied. From conducting business meetings to facilitating religious services, to conducting online classes and even meeting friends for virtual hangouts, it has become the default social chatroom. The benefits are far too many to lure in a network of users. Its services are free (superior services are charged though), it can accommodate up to 100 users in a single video call and has additional features, for example, foregrounding the speaker. It is a saviour for people in self-isolation, who are dying to catch a glimpse of another human face. Undoubtedly, when world stocks are plummeting, its share price has doubled. Makes one wonder if anybody had anticipated a work from home scenario?

But now it appears if this was another Chinese effort to mine data of its users to create a world surveillance network. Perhaps this is the reason the Government is warning against its use in secure communications. Accusations involve the already-established concerns on privacy and end-to-end encryption. Its ease of use also encouraged bad actors — there have been several cases where users have taken recourse to making racist attacks, child abuse, even pornography. While the company is still making amendments on a daily basis, it has also cultivated an image of being a snooper on the prowl. And its admission that some calls were “mistakenly” routed to China is not reassuring at all. Nobody knows the shape of a post-COVID world but politics is in full play.

Source: The Pioneer

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