Is Zoom safe? What to know about the popular app

Here's what you should know about "Zoombombing" and what you can do to prevent it.
LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- In the midst of a global pandemic, millions across the globe are using videoconferencing apps to connect with family, friends and even work. However, experts are warning users to be careful when using some of them due to privacy concerns, including the popular app Zoom.

"Zoom is being vastly criticized right now for privacy and security problems," said Dr. Karen North, Clinical Professor of Communications at USC.

Dr. North, whose specialty topics include social media, digital media and psychology, lectures via Zoom at USC. She is one of over 200 million people who used the app in the month of March, according to a Zoom spokesperson.

"It's possible Zoom is collecting some kind of data from us," Dr. North said.

In addition to privacy concerns, Zoom has been criticized for its lack of security. Users have reported "Zoombombing" and "party crashing" across the globe.

"Zoombombing is when we're having a meeting or a class, somebody jumps into the meeting or the class and either disrupts it or participates or does something either funny or something disruptive and hostile," Dr. North said.

Dr. Dennis Johnson, a recent Ed. D. graduate from California State University Long Beach, was "Zoombombed" during his dissertation defense on March 26.

"I had my family and friends, my grandmothers, my mother, my sisters, my spouse, my closest friends, and all my classmates on this call," said Dr. Johnson. "It was really embarrassing."

Dr. Johnson was the first doctoral candidate to present his dissertation defense via Zoom after the coronavirus outbreak closed the CSULB campus. During his presentation, an anonymous user took control of the screen, writing racial slurs and streaming pornography during the Zoom call.

"I've been working for three years on this research," Dr. Johnson said. "My moment was honestly taken away from me."

The moderator of the video conference quickly removed the user from the call. Johnson and staff both said that the link was not shared publicly.

"We were horrified by what happened during Dennis's dissertation defense," said Don Haviland, Department Chair of the Educational Leadership at CSULB, in an email. "We hope that the new safeguards by the provider will help prevent this from happening to others in the future."

Dr. Johnson created a petition, asking Zoom to take appropriate action and to formally apologize.

In a statement to ABC7, a spokesperson from Zoom said the following:

"We have been deeply upset by increasing reports of harassment on our platform and strongly condemn such behavior. We are listening to our community of users to help us evolve our approach and help our users guard against these attacks. We recently changed the default settings for education users enrolled in our K-12 program to enable virtual waiting rooms and ensure teachers are the only ones who can share content in class. Effective April 5, we are enabling passwords and virtual waiting rooms by default for our Free Basic and Single Pro users. We are also continuing to proactively educate users on how they can protect their meetings from unwanted intruders, including through our offering of trainings, tutorials, and webinars to help users understand their own account features and how to best use the platform."

Dr. North offered these tips to protect yourself from Zoom bombing:

-Email the Zoom link
-Avoid posting the Zoom link on social media
-Create a password for your Zoom call

"What we think is private is public on some level," Dr. North said. "What we think is temporary is permanent for the same reason.

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