crimes against design –––
Zoom One of the many things we have learned since March is that a grid of faces on a screen is no substitute for real people. Words by Owen Hopkins
LIKE MOST PEOPLE, I’d never heard of Zoom. That was until early March when, like millions of others, I began working from home and Zoom was suddenly thrust centre-stage into my working life. At first, I was pleasantly surprised – it was all so easy. Joining a meeting was no more complicated than clicking a button. Between December 2019 and April of this year, Zoom’s user base grew twentyfold. Today, its number of daily active users may be as high as 300 million.
With such dramatic growth comes those looking to exploit it. ‘Zoombombing’ suddenly hit the news as users reported strangers hijacking their meetings. The openness that made Zoom so easy to use created an open door for hackers. In the rush to move to remote working, few of us had really wondered how private our conversations were online. If you can’t see someone eavesdropping, we tend to believe we’re talking in private. Now people were appearing in our supposedly secure meetings, we wondered what was going on. But observers who had followed Zoom before its rise to prominence were already aware of its lamentable approach to privacy. In summer 2019, it had come to light that the Mac version of Zoom secretly installed a web server which allowed hackers to take control of your webcam. Worse still, the web server remained running even if you deleted the app. Since then, we’ve found out that Zoom has been secretly sending data to Facebook, that it had redefined ‘end-toend encryption’, which ensures your data can’t be read in transit, to exclude when it was going through Zoom’s servers,
and that some calls were being routed through China – the last country you’d want to send data through. Lack of security by design is one thing, but having used Zoom now for four months, I think its problems are much more profound. As a proxy for human interaction, which is ultimately what it aims to be, it’s woefully limited. Alongside ‘Zoombombing’, ‘Zoom fatigue’ has entered the contemporary lexicon as a description of how exhausting Zoom is, compared to face‑to-face meetings. Researchers have already identified a range of reasons for this – screens forcing us to stay more alert, anxieties about losing the connection, and the broader situation of isolation. But what it boils down to is the simple fact that a row of heads on a screen is an appallingly bad approximation for a real meeting. What we need is an online interface that actively attempts to engage with the complex ways we interact in person. Given how slow Zoom has been to respond to something as straightforward as basic security, we may be waiting a long time. IMAG E
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