The world now runs on video chat and telecommuting apps, but as we’ve come to discover over the last few weeks, they can be a security risk. Recent reports of “Zoombombing” and account stuffing have raised concerns over several difference video chat apps, but it’s not just hackers and trolls you have to worry about: You also need to be wary of the companies that own these platforms.
How companies can use data from your video chats
Zoom has received its fair share of rightful criticism over its leaky security measures, but a recent Consumer Reports article points out that the teleconferencing apps from Google (Meet, Duo and Hangout), Microsoft (Teams and Skype) and Cisco (WebEx) aren’t any better. According to each company’s privacy policies, they all can:
Log the IP address and/or usernames for all participants in a call and how long the call lasted who’s on it; and everyone’s IP, or internet, address.
Build consumer profiles based on personal account information that may be sold to advertisers and other businesses.
Access to audio files if users request transcriptions.
Use recorded audio of users who opt-in to help improve voice-recognition and, in some cases, do the same with stored video footage.
Even if we give these companies the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re handling your personal information and call data responsibly, the fact that any of it is stored in the first place is a risk—all it takes is one accidental leak to compromise your account and your data.
There are ways to keep yourself safe, though.
How to make sure your video chat app is secure
If you’re uncomfortable with Google, Microsoft and Cisco’s privacy policies, look into teleconferencing apps that prioritize privacy, such as Zoho. Mozilla even has a detailed guide that ranks video chat apps by their level of security.
That said, you don’t necessarily have to abandon Meet, Teams or Webex as long as you’re implementing smart data security practices. Here are some other suggestions that should help keep your telecommuting apps safe, according to both Consumer Reports and our own previous coverage:
Create “burner” accounts/emails with as little personal information as possible and make sure they’re kept separate from your main accounts.
Join calls as a “guest” whenever possible.
Use password protection for meetings whenever possible, which helps keep trolls and Zoombombers out.
Mute/turn off your camera and mic whenever possible, both in calls and when you’re not using the app. Unplug wired webcams and mics or block built-in laptop cameras with tape or sticky notes.
Create a unique password and use an encrypted password manager to keep it safe. This is especially important in light of the recent Zoom breach.
Use the most secure settings possible—whether that means restricting an app’s access to your mic, camera and other features or opting out of product “enhancement” programs that allow companies to access your calls and/or recordings.
Don’t click on links in public Zoom chats.