An Introduction to Video-Calling and Privacy.
On the twelfth of April, the Ministry of Home Affairs of India issued an advisory on the secure usage of The Zoom Meeting platform by private individuals. It explicitly stated that Zoom is not a safe platform and is not to be used by the government for official purposes. This awakened my curiosity and made me wonder how safe are the video calling platforms on which our social and work/educational life is now dependent. It is important to note that the internet was not created with things like anonymity and privacy in mind and so everything you do and say online can and, in many cases, will be tracked, recorded and traceable back to you. The concern about privacy started rising during the mid-1990s. Therefore, it not surprising that privacy and security of users’ data has been on the back burner for most tech companies. That is until now, this pandemic has led to a large need of virtual communication. From online classes on Zoom in the morning to conversations and games on Houseparty with friends in the evenings; video calling has become a part of our daily routine and these applications have become the virtual equivalent of schools and coffee shops. Whenever something becomes popular and an essential element of the new “normal”, it is imperative we investigate whether they are truly safe to use or not. First and foremost, we need to sit back and really see how much information we directly give when we register for these services. Most profiles consist of :
• Profile picture
• Email address
• Contact list
And when you further use the application, they have access to
other data like :
• Who you call
• Time and duration of your calls
• Chat history
• Sent and received files
• Phone numbers called
• Activity status
If you’ve opted for a paid version, these companies would also have access to your bank account. It is a scary fact that personal data of such a large populus is in the hands of these private companies that can go to any length to increase their profit margins. This shouldn’t be as big a worry if this information isn’t being accessed by their employees and thankfully, most of the time it isn’t except for research and to formulate advertising strategies but, the vague privacy policies don’t give us any guarantee that it cannot be used. Here’s where the concept of encryption comes in. Encryption is a process that encodes a message or file so that it can only be read by certain people. It uses an algorithm to scramble, or encrypt, data and then uses a key for the receiving party to unscramble, or decrypt, the information. Unfortunately, security and encryption are hard work and resource intensive. To be the best secure video conferencing solution, you have to constantly improve your security measures while also understand that quality and clarity will require additional overhead for the service provider to add in the extra layers of encryption. In this pandemic laden world, it is not possible for us to neglect the use of video calling services but we can take precautions (like using secure networks, using OTPs etc.) and not put ourselves in comprising positions while on camera.