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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 by “Zoombombers”,
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.
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How Zoom Stumbled Into Success

34 Folder Collection
Seina published on July 7, 2020
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