Photo by Gerald Schömbs on Unsplash

The Zoom Feeding Frenzy

Think

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Suddenly my preferred video chat app is surrounded by sharks who want to destroy it and become it at the same time.

Memories

Zoom and I go back a while, about 8 years to be precise. It has helped me establish some meaningful contact with people in my work life. The core technology has been unmatched and the very nice feature set has been ignored by competitors for most of this time. It does what it does very well, in all kinds of circumstances that make the other apps/systems glitch and utterly fail to work.

Like many of my favored things, Zoom wasn’t popular. No one had heard of it whenever I pulled it out of my toolbox and most people opted to use something they already had installed or seemed web-based. Often Zoom was the last resort, saving the day when necessary.

Where Zoom is open, easy, and solid—other video chat software is closed-minded, difficult, and problematic. In most other apps, people you’re trying to invite either get excluded as outsiders or stuck in the many unfriendly hoops they have to jump through in order to connect and participate in your audio or video conference. Then if they do connect, the trouble continues with transmission quality and figuring out the basic operation.

Zoom historically just works.

2020 + COVID 19 = Zoom

Fast forward to now and surprisingly, Zoom has gone viral because of a literal virus! My first reaction: ‘Finally, I can just mention Zoom and people will know what to do.’ I looked forward to this new age of ease and technical proficiency. Zoom was at long last, having a moment in the sun and earning a well deserved place modern lexicon.

Then right after, the local school system, companies, and government agencies started banning Zoom for official use. News stories about security woes started popping up with recommendations to use other software.

Zoombombing! Security! We must use WebEx or Teams!

Wait, what? The first part seems naive and the second part sounds fishy.

I looked into this backlash to find that, well, it looks like mostly a default settings issue mixed with a “people publicly posting the urls to their meetings” issue. In a lot of cases it’s even a “this meeting needs to be open to the public in the same way as an in-person city council meeting is” situation. Have you ever been to a city or county council meeting? I have and it’s a painful experience having to wait for each mentally disturbed resident to finish their allotted minutes of speaking time at the podium. Some of them go to every single meeting. The council members know them well and do their best to ignore these people when it’s their turn—but they must let them speak because that’s agreed upon structure that allows fairness for sane statements to be heard.

Anyway the issue is that Zoom is getting bombed and scraped for reasons that don’t include bad security:

  1. Alt-Right men and boys are a bad thing anywhere but especially, apparently, on video chat. This reason is first because it is in fact, the number one reason.
  2. Zoom was made nicely enough so that you CAN easily keep the permissions open for anyone to join and the interface is easy enough so that people can actually connect. All the controls you need to lock people out are there but if you don’t enable them, they won’t do that.
  3. If you’re publicly posting information about private meetings or recordings, by definition that means anyone can find them. No one is cracking the encryption to break into meetings or recordings. I question whether a lot of the people talking about this aspect even know what that means.

Understandably, if you’re one of the people participating in these open meetings that got bombed by mentally deficient alt-right trolls then you’re going to react unfavorably toward anything you might think is responsible. In this case it would be incorrect to blame the tech but in the absence of being able to find the trolls, it also makes sense the former would happen.

This flailing makes some sense. What doesn’t make sense to me are things like attorneys taking legal action, the press getting set on fire, security firms jumping into action, and the video software from major corporations getting suggested by name complete with links to their apps.

Something fishy…

Things like this don’t often just happen. Hype circulates this fast and this consistently when someone with an agenda is tipping off the press and/or writing articles for them.

So who might be doing that? The fact that certain apps are getting singled out as replacements for Zoom in these attack articles at the same time bans get put in place tells me those companies are the most likely candidates for spreading the “Zoom is evil, use THIS APP instead!” message.

Maybe Microsoft, Cisco, Google, Blue Jeans, and Facebook among others? Or maybe just one of them? Either way it smells like the overactive marketing department(s) of any could be a source of this frenzy.

The smell of fish… is shark!

The next phase of news to come to my attention is the wave of copycatting. On the tail of venomous decisions and articles about Zoom come all these companies rushing to cobble together similar features to the software they’re vilifying.

Zoom has gallery view. Suddenly everyone is announcing gallery view!

Zoom has custom backgrounds. Suddenly Teams has custom backgrounds!

Zoom has noise cancellation. Whoa, now Meet does too!

Are they going to copy the whole thing, including open permissions that are being so openly derided?

It’s a rather disgusting display of capitalist hypocrisy.

I recently read an article going behind the scenes of some of these companies, saying that people all the way up to the CEOs are telling their employees to go after Zoom; to take away Zoom’s market share and replace it with their own inferior products, somehow.

If I could somehow speak directly to these companies as a single person I would say, “Why you gotta be like that? Hating and ripping off at the same time? You never gave these features the time of day before. You’re clearly showing you still don’t care about your customers. Why are you sharks so gluttonous for dollars? You would devour us too, if only that would make you more profits.”

Can’t they just leave well enough alone? Zoom has enough troubles from the alt-right to deal with.

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