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Why we resist Zoom and choose BigBlueButton for video chat

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We can look at the recent popularity of some widely used platforms like Zoom and ask ourselves some questions as to why we still use them when we know a lot of terrible things about them. Agaric prefers to use a free/libre video chat software called BigBlueButton for many reasons, the first one being the licensing, but there are many reasons.

Zoom has had some major technology failures, which the corporation is not liable to disclose. At one point, a vulnerability was discovered in the desktop Zoom client for MacOS that allowed hackers to start your webcam remotely and launch you into a meeting without your permission. The company posted a note saying that they fixed the issue. Unfortunately, the Zoom source code is proprietary and we are not even allowed to look at it. There is no way for the community to see how the code works or to verify that the fix was comprehensive.

The Zoom Corporation stated early on that the software was encrypted end-to-end (E2EE) from your device to the recipient's device. This was untrue at the time, but the company states that it has been corrected for users on their client app. While it is no longer true that E2EE is unsupported, it does require that you use the proprietary Zoom client for E2EE to work. Without E2EE, any data that is retrieved on its way from your computer to a server can be accessed! The only real security is knowing the operators of your server. This is why Agaric uses trusted sources like MayFirst.org for most of our projects and we have a relationship with our BigBlueButton host. The Intercept also revealed that Zoom users that dial in on their phone are NOT encrypted at all

BigBlueButton does not have a client app and works in your browser, so there is no E2EE. The idea for E2EE is that with it,  you "do not have to trust the server operator and you can rely on E2EE" because the model implies that every client has keys that are protecting the transferred data. However: you MUST still use a proprietary client in order to get the benefits of E2EE support, so once again you MUST trust Zoom as you have no permission to examine the app to determine that the keys are not being shared with Zoom.

Of course there is always the fact that hackers work day and night to corrupt E2EE and a Corporation is not obligated to tell you the customer every time there has been a security breach, and this information is usually buried in the terms of service they post - sometimes with a note saying the terms are subject to change and updates. A Corporation is not obligated to tell you, the customer when there has been a security breach" unless any personal information is exposed. There are now mandatory timely disclosure requirements for all states: https://www.ncsl.org/research/telecommunications-and-information-technology/security-breach-notification-laws.aspx ...Can Zoom really be trusted? As with some laws, the fine that is applied is low and affordable and subject to the interpretation of the courts and the status of knowledge your lawyer is privvy to - meaning most Corporations normally have a battery of lawyers to interpret the law and drag the case out until you are... broke.

In the case of BigBlueButton encryption, E2EE would only make sense if there are separate clients using an API to connect to the BBB server so a user does not have to trust the BBB server operator. If the user trusts the server operator, then there would be no need for E2EE." Lesson learned: It is always best practice to know and trust your server hosts as they are the ones that have the keys to your kingdom. 

Some technology analysts consider Zoom software to be malware. Within companies that use Zoom, employers are even able to monitor whether or not you are focusing on the computer screen during meetings which seems excessively intrusive. Speaking of intrusive, the Zoom Corporation also shares your data with FaceBook, even if you do not have a FB account - that could be a whole blog in itself, but just being aware of some of the vulnerabilities is a good thing to pass on. Some of the bad stuff remains even if you uninstall the Zoom app from your device! Even though a class action suit was filed over privacy issues, the company stock still continued to rise.

Those are many reasons why we do not support Zoom. But there are also many reasons why we prefer BBB over Zoom. Besides, BBB has many great features that Zoom lacks:

1. Easily see who is speaking when their name appears above the presentation.
2. Chat messages will remain if you lose your connection or reload and rejoin the room.
3. Video is HD quality and you can easily focus on a persons webcam image.
4. Collaborative document writing on a shared Etherpad.
5. Easily share the presenter/admin role with others in the room.
6. Write closed captions in many languages, as well as change the language of the interface.
7. An interactive whiteboard for collaborative art with friends!

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One huge advantage of free software, like BBB, is that you can usually find their issue queue where you can engage with the actual developers to report bugs and request feature enhancements. Here is a link to the BigBlueButton issue queue.

So, why do people keep using a platform like Zoom, even though there are many features in BigBlueButton that are much better? 

There is very little publicity for free software and not many know it exists and that there are alternative solutions. You can find some great suggestions of software and switch to it by using this site called switching.software. The marketing budget for Zoom is large and leads you to believe it has everything you will need. Sadly their budget grows larger everyday with the money people pay for subscriptions to the platform. As a result, many people go with it as it is already used by their friends and colleagues, even though there are reports of irresponsible behavior by the Zoom Corporation. This is why the New York school system does not use Zoom and many organizations are following suit. The company gives people a false sense of security as it is widely used and very popular.

Of course, there are reasons to avoid other proprietary chat platforms too...

Agaric offers BigBlueButton for events and meetings. Check out our fun BBB website at CommunityBridge and test drive the video chat yourself!

If this discussion interests you, please share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Looking to learn more about problems with Zoom? There are a lot of articles about Zoom scandals.

Looking to learn more about protecting your privacy online? These links have some helpful information and videos for tech-savvy people and organic folks alike!

2021 could be the year we all begin to STOP supporting the Corporations that oppress us. 

Special thanks to Keegan Rankin for edits!

 

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