Student Life

Creating the baby zoomer generation

Zoom, a company that would have been unknown to many this time last year, has become a mainstay in our everyday lives. The COVID-19 pandemic transformed this little-known video conferencing application into a multi-billion dollar company, and for good reason: It offered an effective and simple video-call platform for workplaces and schools in desperate need of remote communication tools. To better understand Zoom’s phenomenal rise to the top, it is worth examining its beginnings. 

In 2012, long before mandatory online classes and virtual parties, a former Cisco employee named Eric Yuan created Zoom. Yuan left Cisco to begin the project that would become Zoom after Cisco failed to improve their web-based video conferencing platform, WebEx. The first version of Zoom was released in 2012, and by 2013 the application was hosting 5,550 calls per day. Set apart by its user-friendly interface and capacity to host 40 people in one call, Zoom’s innovative features distinguished it in a crowded market with little room for newcomers.

“Zoom worked on some issues of other video conference tools and offered a solution with high video and audio quality,” Anton Stiglic, seasonal lecturer at McGill’s School of Information Studies, wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “Zoom also offered certain features that made it particularly attractive, such as being able to set a background, commanding a meeting by being able to mute certain participants, a raise-the-hand feature, and many more.”

With these novel features, Zoom was initially able to upstage several of its strongest competitors, including Skype. However, Zoom’s true moment to shine would not come for another seven years.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom use has grown exponentially. Stuck in quarantine, many began using this software to stay virtually connected. Zoom’s biggest success, however, was its universal acceptance in schools and workplaces. 

Zoom has several features that support team collaboration, such as the Zoom Chat and easy integration with other leading workplace tools like Salesforce. In education, Zoom’s ability to facilitate live, online teaching while encouraging student engagement has been met with praise. Unlike the former poster child of video conferencing technologies Skype––which was hard to install, buggy, and prone to spam calls––Zoom is much more user-friendly.

Unsurprisingly, Zoom’s meteoric rise came with serious downsides. The application faced privacy concerns and online harassment issues.

“Firstly, there were a couple of vulnerabilities found in various Zoom software clients exposing peoples computers and devices,” Stiglic wrote. “There were issues with Zoom’s privacy policy, and misinformation [spread] about what Zoom can do with your information, messages, and audio. There were also problems with the encryption they implemented, which was not as secure as they claimed it was.”

One phenomenon emerged, known as “Zoombombing.” Individuals with malicious intent began overtaking public video chats and displaying graphic content or racist comments, leading some institutional clients to switch to other conferencing softwares. Zoom eventually took measures to rectify these issues.

“Zoom did take all of these issues in hand and they have put serious effort into solving them,” Stiglic wrote. “They have tightened and clarified their security policy [and] re-architected their solution to offer real end-to-end encryption, including for the free version. Zoom also created a ‘waiting room’ feature for additional participants and requires a password to enter a meeting.”

Some security issues unfortunately remain, including susceptibility to certain malware programs. Zoom’s ease of use continues to make it a prime target for internet trolls and hackers. 

In light of these security concerns, Stiglic believes that in order for Zoom to retain its momentum, the company must continue to patch bugs in its software and offer new, innovative features to aid university lectures and business meetings.

“There is a lot of competition in the field of videoconferencing solutions,” Stiglic said. “Only time will tell which ones will [survive]. But one thing is certain: The survivors will need to take security and privacy seriously in order to offer a quality solution.”

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