The coronavirus pandemic has taken the world online. As meetings, conferences, and learning online become de rigueur, numerous companies have seen a growth spurt. Valley-based startup Zoom.us is one of them.
The startup saw massive traction as work from home became mandatory and education classes, official meetings, family calls, and group conferences shifted online.
The startup’s valuation touched $42 billion post the COVID-19 crisis. However, it ran into trouble when cyber risk assessment firm Cyble discovered that over 500,000 Zoom accounts were being sold on the dark web.
Zoom, which went from 10 million users to 200 million daily users within weeks, came in for severe criticism for its lack of end-to-end encryption on conferences and meeting sessions. There were also complaints of uninvited guests crashing into virtual meetings.
Zoom CEO Eric Yuan immediately responded in a blogpost on the many measures the team had taken to solve the problem. And, despite these pushbacks, Zoom is seeing growth.
In an interaction with YourStory, Sameer Raje, General Manager and Head of India, Zoom, speaks about the startup’s growth in India, and what it is doing to ensure privacy and safety.
Sameer is responsible for leading strategic initiatives, go-to-market, operations, sales, implementation, support, and general management functions for Zoom in India.
He has been associated with companies like Cisco Webex, IBM, and Microsoft. He was last associated with West Unified Communications (Intercall) for close to seven years as Director Sales – India and for Small Medium Customer Business across Asia Pacific. He joined Zoom in April last year to kickstart its India operations. Edited excerpts from the interview:
YourStory (YS): How important is the India market for Zoom?
Sameer Raje (SR): India is an important market for Zoom. Global customers, Indian companies, governments, and individuals are part of our user base here. We also have a team and two data centres in India, one in Mumbai and one in Hyderabad. Zoom has long-term plans for India, and wants to grow as an Indian company.
YS: What was the market like for Zoom before and after the pandemic, specifically for India?
SR: The usage of Zoom has ballooned overnight, far surpassing what we expected when we first announced our desire to help in late February. Over 90,000 schools across 20 countries have taken us up on our offer to help children continue their education remotely.
To put this growth in context, as of the end of December last year, the maximum number of daily meeting participants on Zoom, both free and paid, was approximately 10 million.
In March this year, we reached more than 200 million daily meeting participants, both free and paid. As of April this year, we reached more than 300 million daily meeting participants, both free and paid.
YS: There have been several issues related to data and privacy. What is Zoom doing about that?
SR: Zoom takes its users’ privacy extremely seriously, and does not monitor user meetings as a matter of policy. At the same time, Zoom will not tolerate the abuse of its platform to engage in conduct that is illegal, violent, or harmful to others.
To ensure user safety and prevent such abuse, we enforce our terms of service through use of automated tools that suggest when nefarious activity may be occurring on the platform. We do not disclose details of the tools we use as part of this process for reasons of operational security.
If a violation is reported or identified, we take a number of actions, which may include terminating meetings, cancelling user accounts, and, where appropriate, notifying relevant law enforcement authorities. As part of these efforts, we work closely with advocacy groups across a variety of different interests and causes.
We appreciate the researchers and industry partners who have helped – and continue to help – us identify issues as we continuously seek to strengthen our platform.
As part of our 90-day plan announced on April 1, we are doubling down on our commitment to security, and are proactively working to better identify, address, and fix issues.
This includes enacting a feature freeze, effectively immediately, and shifting all our engineering resources to focus on our biggest trust, safety, and privacy issues. We are also conducting a comprehensive review with third-party experts and representative users to understand and ensure the security of all our new consumer use cases.
Zoom leverages a robust global network to support our users, both free and paid, natively routing traffic through the meeting zone that will provide the best performance. While recent changes provide an additional optional for paid customers, free users will continue to be supported by data centres within their default geographic region where their account is provisioned, with additional geofencing best practices still enforced.
YS: What are the next steps in terms of privacy and security?
SR: Zoom takes user privacy extremely seriously. Through our training, tutorials, and webinars, including CEO Eric Yuan’s weekly privacy and security webinar, Zoom is continuing to engage with all users on how they can best use Zoom safely.
We encourage users to report any incidents either to Zoom, so we can take appropriate action, or directly to law enforcement authorities.
We have made the Zoom Meeting ID less visible for all users, to help prevent unintended sharing, and have added a new security icon to the Zoom meeting controls for all hosts to help them quickly access in-meeting security features, including the ability to remove participants and lock meetings, among other actions.
Security aspects that users can adopt include:
- Waiting Rooms: The Waiting Room feature is now available by default for free Basic and single licensed Pro accounts, as well as education accounts enrolled in our K-12 programme.
- Passwords: Meeting passwords are on by default for free Basic and single licensed Pro accounts, and for education accounts enrolled in our K-12 programme. The default setting cannot be changed for those education accounts.
- Domain contacts: For free Basic and single licensed Pro accounts with unmanaged domains, contacts in the same domain will no longer be visible. We’ve also removed the option to auto-populate your Contacts list with users from the same domain. If you would like to keep those contacts, you can add them as External Contacts.
- Renaming participants: In addition to the above in-meeting renaming control, account admins and hosts can now disable the ability for participants to rename themselves (for every meeting) at the account, group, and user level in the web portal.
Zoom’s system is designed so that only minimal information is collected, and any information and/or data transiting the system is routed through the meeting zone that will provide the best performance, which is typically a data centre nearest to the user sending or receiving the data.
Zoom has 17 data centres around the world and we also use cloud data centres globally.
YS: With more platforms and startups coming up in the same space, what are you doing to ensure that you retain market share?
SR: We are experiencing increased demand for support, and are taking several steps to minimise support wait times, including:
- Creating easily accessible webinars, tutorials, and other content addressing users’ most frequently asked questions
- Redeploying staff from other areas to address support questions
- Hiring additional staff for customer support.
Our mission is to make communication frictionless, and we aim to empower people to accomplish more. We are proud of the role we are playing to help and, aware that Zoom’s increased popularity among consumers makes it more of a target for bad actors, we are taking proactive steps to further protect the consumer user experience.
YS: Post-COVID-19, how do you see video conferencing evolve and grow?
SR: As video-first communications becomes more popular and accessible, we feel a responsibility to help where we can. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are working round the clock to ensure that businesses, schools, and other organisations across the world can stay connected and operational.
As more and new kinds of users start using Zoom during this time, we have been proactively engaging to make sure they understand relevant policies and best ways to use the platform and protect their meetings.
Given how quickly our platform is adapting each day to better address new users, we don’t want to speculate too much on what the future holds.
For now, we’re focussed on helping as many people and businesses as we can stay connected – whether they’re hospitals, schools, financial institutions, governments, or users looking to stay in touch with colleagues, friends, and family.
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