With over a third of the world’s population under some kind of social restrictions, keeping in touch is more important than ever. This means apps like Zoom and Houseparty have become much more prominent in the last few weeks.
The World Health Organization has officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic and has called for “all countries to continue efforts that have been effective in limiting the number of cases and slowing the spread of the virus.”
Numerous countries, including India, China, Italy, France, Poland, the UK, and New Zealand currently have hugely restrictive mass quarantines in place.
Because of this, suddenly, people are finding socializing online to be more important than ever to stay in touch with loved ones, keep up with hobbies, keep up to date with work meetings, celebrate birthdays and special events, and more.
In a recent survey, 32% of people said they are spending more time on social media; and many people – even those that didn’t use it before – are finding videoconferencing to be part of everyday life.
However, online safety is still a concern. And security concerns have been raised for both Zoom and Houseparty.
So, are they safe to use?…
How safe is Houseparty?
Video calling app Houseparty, which is owned by Epic Games, has been under the spotlight in the last few weeks on social media.
Some users have received messages saying the app is being used to hack their Spotify and Deliveroo accounts – and, in some cases, even their bank account.
In addition, some users have reported issues with the app not accepting passwords and not letting them delete the account. This has further fueled fears that the app was stealing passwords or possibly selling them to third-parties.
Epic Games has denied the allegations, saying it’s part of a smear campaign. But are users right to be worried? Could the allegations be true?
The answer is, it’s unlikely that the app is hacking other accounts – unless there’s some type of malware in the code that can steal passwords. There’s no evidence of this, and as Epic is a big brand, it’s unlikely they’d create an app without checking for malware.
However, despite there being no evidence of malicious activity, privacy researchers have pointed out that the app may be guilty of ignoring some data protection regulations, including ignoring opt-outs for tracking and how data can be used.
Plus, video chats aren’t encrypted, which is a concern for many users; and the terms and conditions advise users that anything from chats can be used for marketing purposes.
The question is, then, should you trust this app? It’s up to you to decide. You should weigh up the benefits and potential risks – you should also consider alternatives before making a decision.
How safe is Zoom?
Zoom is usually the go-to choice for business meetings, for getting in touch with clients and employees, and for friends, family members, and more.
Because of this, it’s often seen as the more trustworthy app. But is this true? Is Zoom a better choice?
Although it’s faced less scrutiny than its rival, Houseparty, Zoom has been criticized over a number of issues by some privacy experts.
The first issue that’s been raised is that the iOS version of the app on Apple devices has been sending information to Facebook – even when the user doesn’t use Facebook or have an account.
However, since this discovery Zoom has apologized for the error, and it’s updated it to remove the flaw and stop data being transferred.
Another concern that’s been raised by researchers is that, despite, claiming to use end-to-end encryption for video calls, it wasn’t doing so consistently. Instead, it has been using transport encryption, which offers some security to the user, but isn’t as effective.
So, is Zoom safe? The app has had some problems. But, overall, it has dealt with these swiftly and there’s no evidence of malicious activity. Choosing whether to use an app or not is about balancing the pros and cons and deciding if you’re comfortable using it.
Tips for staying safe
If, like many people, you plan to use these apps to keep in touch, there are ways you can enhance your privacy and security.
Here are our top tips for staying safe:
- Make sure your account is protected by a password. You can do this by switching on the ‘require password’ feature. When setting up a meeting, share this with the other participants on a secure channel like WhatsApp.
- Use the ‘waiting room’ setting. On Zoom, you can use this setting to approve users entering the meeting. This stops unwanted crashers accessing it.
- Keep your meetings private. Even if you want loads of people joining, don’t announce meetings on any online platform. Instead, send invites securely via WhatsApp or email.
- Make sure the re-join feature is off. If someone’s crashed your meeting and you remove them, you want to ensure they can’t regain access to it. This is why it’s important to switch off the ‘allow removed participants to rejoin’ feature at all times.
- Switch off screen sharing. If you don’t want other users to share their screens, make sure you switch this off, or change it to ‘host only’. You can change it later if needed.
In these difficult times, it’s important to stay safe. This means making sure your video calling app is secure and keeps your information private. Always ensure your app is up-to-date and uses all the latest safety features.
Make sure you follow the tips we’ve laid out as a precaution. And, if you’re still worried, consider switching to an alternative like Skype, FaceTime, or video calling on WhatsApp.