Zoom Out! Zoom in on Safer Alternatives

    21-Apr-2020   
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As it is officially confirmed that Zoom App is 'not safe', Bharat explores alternative video conferencing platforms, including Swadeshi solutions 
 
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After the US Senate, Taiwan Government, Australia’s Defense Force; India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has warned the users that the Zoom’s video-conferencing application is not safe for usage. The Indian government has advised all the Central government ministers to use of the National Informatics Centre (NIC) Video Conferencing network, which is present in across 1,800 official NIC studios. Various reports suggest that 500,000 zoom accounts have been hacked and sold.
 
 
IT and Communication Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad took a proactive and strategic approach by announcing an Innovation Challenge for Development of a Video Conferencing Solution under the Digital India Program.The Innovation Challenge has three stages i.e. Ideation (Top 10 teams will get INR 5 lakh each), Prototype(Top 3 teams will get INR 20 lakh each), Final Stage ( The winner will get INR 1 Crore and 10 lakh for next 3 years).
 
 
Due to coronavirus pandemic, people are forced to stay indoors and work from home, leaving voice and video calls the only way of communication. Till the time, Bharat has its own indigenous video conferencing platform they need reliable and equivalent options. Although, some Indian solutions, with limited functionality, are already available. Here are some alternative video conferencing solutions provided by major players.
 
 

Zoho Meeting

 
 
Zoho Corporation is an Indian software development company headquartered in Chennai. Zoho Meetings offerssolutions for webinars, training, and online meetings. With Zoho meetings, User can make audio-video calls, can share their screens, record the meetings and send calendar invites. In terms of security, Zoho Meeting does not give unnecessary controls to monitor activity on participants' screens by meeting hosts and administrators. Zoom's attendee attention tracker violates the privacy of participants in a meeting.Zoho Meeting claims that they safely encrypt user’s Personal Identification Information (PII) and doesn’t share or process them for commercial purposes.
 
 
Plans begin at INR 300/host per month for 100 participants and 10 recordings. For a webinar, plans start at $19/host per month for 25 attendees and go up to $79/host per month for 250 attendees and 25 recordings.
 
 

BlueJeans

 
 
BlueJeans has two US-based Indian co-founders. Recently, Verizon agreed to acquire Bluejeans. Bluejeans Meetings is a video conferencing solution that focuses on instant connections, using a mobile, desktop or browser. Blue jeans’ solution is powered by Dolby Voice, includes background noise cancellation and can integrate with enterprise applications like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Facebook Workplace. Whiteboard and screen sharing tools are also available. (For livestreams and large-scale web-based presentations, they have a separate product called Blue Jeans Events.)
 
 
Bluejeans meeting has three price plans: Standard ( $9.99/month per host. Up to 50 participants and 5 hours of recording), Pro ( $13.99/month per host. Up to 75 participants and 25 hours of recording) and Enterprise (price available on request. Advanced add-on features are provided like 100 participants)
 
 

Cisco Webex

 
 
Cisco Webex is another popular video conferencing platform. The free version of webex offers up to three users and 50 participants for 40 minutes.The free version includes HD video, screen-sharing and recording options. The paid plans include the Starter at $13.50/host per month with 50 attendees; the Plus at $17.95/month with 100 attendees; the Business at $26.95/month and five-license minimum for up to 200 attendees; the Enterprise plan is also an option, with pricing available upon request. The first two options offer additional cloud storage and management features. The Business Plan and above provides single sign-on and support for Microsoft Exchange and Active Directory.
 
 

Microsoft Teams (Upgraded version of Skype Business)

 
 
Microsoft Teams is the built-in video conferencing in Office 365. Nevertheless, anyone can sign up for the Microsoft Team’s free version using a personal email address. The basic version allows up to 300 members, guest access, one-on-one and group video/audio calls, screen sharing, and shared files up to 10GB per team. The business plans offer more features like Administrators have access to security, management, and compliance tools. Teams can share files up to 1TB per user and cooperate using desktop Office programs and SharePoint Online. Those versions also support online webinars and training sessions.
 
 

GoToMeeting
 

 
The web conferencing service from LogMein, GoToMeeting features audio and video sessions, screen sharing, and a mobile app for Android and iOS. The standard version, which allows for up to 150 team members, is offered for $14/month or $12/month annually. Medium-sized businesses can pay $19/month for the Business plan tier, which increases the range to 250 participants; and large businesses can choose the Enterprise plan that connects up to 3,000 users. Those interested in an Enterprise plan must contact GoToMeetings directly for pricing.
 
 

Slack

 
Slack's collaboration tools offer limited video calling options for basic meetings and teamwork. But, video calls are available only on desktop platforms (Mac, Windows, and Linux). While for iOS and Android apps only voice calls are available.
 
 
The Slack app is needed for the full screen-sharing features, streaming presentations and drawing on a shared screen. With “only” Google Chrome, you can view a teammate's screen, but you can't start a screen share. Slack's support team suggests Mac users should download the Slack app from its website for full access to screen sharing features, which are not available in the App Store version.
 
 

Google Meet

 
 
To give more professional look, Google Hangouts Meet and Google Hangouts Chat were rebranded as Google Meet and Google Chat.Google Meet employs an array of counter-abuse protections to keep your meetings safe. These include anti-hijacking measures for both web meetings and dial-ins.To limit the attack surface and eliminate the need to push out frequent security patches, Google Meet works entirely in your browser. This means Google meet do not require or ask for any plugins or software to be installed if you use Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Microsoft Edge. On mobile, Google recommends that you install the Google Meet app. But this is still missing a lot of features like “push to talk”, “grid layout”. The exact feature set depends on your G Suite version; the number of participants, for example, is limited to 100 for G Suite Basic, 150 for Business, and 250 for Enterprise. For live streaming (up to 100,000 audience members) and the ability to record meetings and save them to Google Drive, you'll need G Suite Enterprise.
 
 
In conclusion, there are many other solutions like Join.me, Free conference but we focused more on solutions provided by reliable and established players. For basic meetings, Some users may opt for facetime but it is limited to just apple users. All the above-mentioned video conference solution providers must providers pricing and other logistical support for existing Zoom users, who have purchased its subscription but want to switch. Further, India should bring its Data protection law as soon as possible, so that companies like Zoom should get screened at the compliance stage before offering any digital service.
 
 
(The writer is the Pentland-Churchill fellow for Global Public Policy leadership at New York University (NYU) and University College London (UCL))