fb-pixel

As trolls invade, Zoom vows action

CEO promises to fix vulnerabilities

Zoom’s chief executive, Eric Yuan, attended the opening-bell ceremony at the Nasdaq exchange in April of last year as the company held its initial public offering of stock on Wall Street.
Zoom’s chief executive, Eric Yuan, attended the opening-bell ceremony at the Nasdaq exchange in April of last year as the company held its initial public offering of stock on Wall Street.Mark Lennihan/Associated Press/File 2019/Associated Press

Zoom’s boss has embarked on an apology tour to reassure users he’s working to improve security and privacy on the videoconferencing app, which has emerged as the virtual town square of the coronavirus epidemic.

The service, once mostly used for client conferences and training webinars, has during the coronavirus lockdown become a home for virtual cocktail hours, exercise classes, meetings, and remote classroom learning. But during the twentyfold surge to 200 million daily members since the end of last year, the service has been hit by trolls interjecting porn or hijacking meetings, drawing regulators’ scrutiny amid privacy concerns.

Chief executive Eric Yuan started the mea-culpa messaging with an April 1 blog post on Zoom Video Communications Inc.’s website, saying “we recognize that we have fallen short of the community’s — and our own — privacy and security expectations.” He sounded similar notes in an interview in The Wall Street Journal and a Sunday appearance on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

“I really messed up as CEO, and we need to win their trust back,” Yuan told The Wall Street Journal. “This kind of thing shouldn’t have happened.”

Advertisement



The lapses have driven away customers including Elon Musk, who banned Zoom at SpaceX and Tesla due to privacy concerns. New York City has directed its schools, a system with more than 1.1 million students, to move away from using Zoom as soon as possible.

“We will support staff and students in transitioning to different platforms such as Microsoft Teams that have the same capabilities with appropriate security measures in place,” said Danielle Filson, a spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Education.

The company is working to protect privacy, including adding end-to-end encryption that is still months away, Yuan said. For now, he’s trying to keep customers on board. Many of the problems stem from the fact the app was geared to enterprise clients with their own IT security teams, instead of the broad consumer market.

Advertisement



“We are still in the process of working with New York schools to make sure we do enforce security safety,” Yuan told CNN.

Since the public health crisis unfolded, Zoom has become the most downloaded free app on Apple’s iOS App Store, ahead of TikTok, DoorDash, and Disney+.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Alex Zukin has a “sector perform” rating and $125 price target on Zoom, which closed at $128 Friday. “If the company is able to provide new default settings that solve 90 percent of the issues, which I view as totally reasonable, it should be fine,” he said.

“Zoombombing” — unauthorized people getting access to a meeting and sharing hate speech or pornography — started trending on social media. Security experts found publicly highlighted problems with Zoom’s technology could leave user data vulnerable.

In March, journalists Kara Swisher and Jessica Lessin hosted a women-in-tech event on Zoom and had to cut it short when an unwelcome guest started broadcasting porn.

The FBI warned about videoconference hijacking, the Journal said. And 27 attorneys general have raised questions about privacy issues, Zoom said, adding it is cooperating with the authorities.

The number of daily meeting participants across Zoom’s paid and free services has gone from around 10 million at the end of last year to 200 million, the company said. Most are using its free service.