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  • Work meetings, school classes, birthday parties

  • - even blind dating, clubbing and weddings -

  • they're all happening on Zoom.

  • The video conferencing app has become the pandemic's go-to social network,

  • as one-third of the world's population is in lockdown.

  • Months ago, Zoom was just a fast-growing startup

  • in the somewhat boring enterprise communication space.

  • Today, Zoom is one of the best-performing companies in the U.S.

  • Its daily users have surged from 10 million last December,

  • to 200 million this April.

  • And, as the company's share price has dramatically risen,

  • so have security issues.

  • But despite a number of companies and governments cautioning against its use

  • - Zoom has become an integral part of our lives in lockdown.

  • This is how Zoom went from a conferencing app

  • to part of the pandemic's critical infrastructure.

  • Zoom was founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan,

  • a veteran engineer in the video conferencing business.

  • Born in 1970 in China's Shandong province,

  • Yuan overcame eight denials on his U.S. visa application

  • before finally making it to Silicon Valley in the late 1990s.

  • He got a job at Webex,

  • one of the first tech companies

  • that created a working video conferencing platform.

  • In 2007, Cisco acquired Webex.

  • And at the point that Cisco bought Webex,

  • he was a very senior engineer there.

  • And he saw the rise of the iPhone

  • and all these iPhone imitators

  • and realized that video conferencing

  • really needed to start getting on mobile.

  • And he proposed moving in that direction.

  • And Cisco wasn't interested.

  • And so he left, ended up taking a bunch of engineers with him

  • and started Zoom to do exactly that.

  • Eight years later, in April 2019, Zoom went public in the U.S.

  • Its share price jumped 72% on the first day of trading,

  • giving it a valuation of $16 billion and making Yuan a billionaire.

  • But Yuan never thought that his company would become a household name

  • until the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world.

  • As billions of people practise social distancing to slow the spread of the virus,

  • not only work, but also school and social lives have moved online.

  • Zoom is really simple to use.

  • It's really reliable.

  • This is something where it's a one-click experience.

  • You get an invitation to the meeting, you click on it,

  • you're automatically in the meeting.

  • If you need to have a gigantic sort of video conferencing meeting,

  • Zoom can handle up to 100 people in its free product.

  • And then if you pay for the enterprise-tier product,

  • then you can handle a meeting of up to a thousand.

  • So it's that combination of ease of use, reliability and scale.

  • In addition, the technology offers a menu of digital backdrops.

  • So you don't need to worry if your half-dressed spouse

  • or children are in the webcam's sightline.

  • Zoom has gained huge popularity,

  • but this has come with significant challenges.

  • So far Zoom has mostly handled a twentyfold surge in usage,

  • but concerns about the platform's privacy and security are rising.

  • A series of reports revealed Zoom's multiple issues,

  • including that the content of its video chats were shared with ad-tracking companies,

  • its iPhone app was sending user data to Facebook without alerting users,

  • and its claimed end-to-end encryption wasn't true.

  • There are also questions about the kind of information

  • that Zoom meeting organizers could gather and keep about Zoom meeting participants.

  • So there's a video recording feature.

  • There's a video transcribing feature.

  • These are all things that do not require the explicit permission

  • of meeting participants to trigger.

  • There was something called the attendee attention tracking tool,

  • which is the slightly Orwellian feature

  • that allowed the meeting organizer to be alerted

  • if it seemed like meeting participants weren't paying full attention to the Zoom meeting,

  • if they basically clicked away from the browser window where the Zoom app was playing.

  • Internet trolls are targeting Zoom calls.

  • Online courses and virtual church gatherings were disrupted byZoombombers”,

  • hackers joining calls to shout racist phrases or share pornography.

  • There were children. There were elders.

  • There were elders who just the week prior

  • had learned how to go on to Zoom

  • and who after a week of sitting in their own homes,

  • isolated, came to church,

  • and to be met with

  • racist and hateful anti-LGBT slurs,

  • was profoundly distressing.

  • Zoom's China links don't help, either,

  • as the U.S.- China relationship sours.

  • Zoom is headquartered in San Jose,

  • but it has several hundred employees at a few locations in China.

  • A university research paper revealed that the company sometimes

  • routed meetings through servers in China

  • even when all the participants were outside the country,

  • raising concerns of Chinese snooping.

  • After these series of revelations, the FBI warned of Zoombombing.

  • The Taiwanese government banned Zoom.

  • And companies like Google and SpaceX stopped using the platform.

  • School systems in Singapore and New York temporarily banned Zoom

  • from being used for home-based learning,

  • but later went back to using it with additional safeguards.

  • The company was also sued by a user

  • who claims it is illegally disclosing personal information.

  • Yuan has apologized

  • and Zoom has stepped up its privacy and security measures.

  • It has removed the attendee attention tracking tool,

  • added features to let paying users decide

  • which countries their meetings get routed through

  • and let meeting attendees report a user to help bust Zoombomers.

  • Zoom also bought Keybase,

  • a company which makes a secure messaging

  • and file-sharing service, to bolster Zoom's encryption.

  • I think he also feels that these issues have arisen in large part

  • because his company has basically in a way

  • been kind of repurposed and requisitioned by the public.

  • People are still using this in a way,

  • the way Eric Yuan envisioned they would,

  • but it's different people using it in fairly different settings.

  • And so I think what he would say is they're just having to

  • kind of make sure that they account for these new uses.

  • While many companies are struggling to survive during the pandemic,

  • Zoom has prospered.

  • Some of its newly added users have become paying customers,

  • and some corporate clients have upgraded,

  • possibly adding a few hundred million U.S. dollars to its revenue.

  • One of the interesting questions going forward,

  • if and when life returns to some semblance of normalcy,

  • is just what Zoom will be.

  • Whether it will go back to being

  • more of a corporate business video conferencing tool

  • or whether it will remain this kind of

  • consumer household name kind of product.

  • And when we asked Eric about that,

  • he very candidly said he had no idea.

  • But so far Zoom has played a critical role in these trying times.

  • As there is no quick fix for the pandemic,

  • Zoom meetings could be here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Work meetings, school classes, birthday parties

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How Zoom Stumbled Into Success

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    Seina posted on 2020/07/07
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