Zoom Banned Due to Privacy Concerns

Zoom, a popular video conferencing platform used by teachers and students for remote learning, has been banned by the Department of Education due to recent privacy concerns.

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By Michael Hu

Because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom became a popular video conferencing platform used by students and teachers for remote learning. Due to recent privacy concerns surrounding Zoom however, Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor Richard Carranza banned Zoom for school usage on April 4. Following the ban, the DOE also suggested that schools switch to Google and Microsoft services for video-calling purposes.

Zoom is a platform for video and audio conferencing, phone calls, and text messaging. Users can download the Zoom app on their mobile device or desktop and start, schedule, or join meetings. Teachers may host meetings for their classes and have students join the Zoom calls through a provided link or meeting ID. Zoom contains many user-friendly features, including recording the video call, hand raising, screen sharing, and virtual backgrounds for participants.

To accommodate for remote learning, many teachers used Zoom for live classes, which are typically 40 minutes, or for office hours. “I had never heard of Zoom before the [COVID-19] outbreak, but other teachers were using it, and they were saying, ‘This is a platform that really is user-friendly and works for a lot of people,’ so I just tried Zoom on and really liked it. I had no idea that it has kind of this dark underside to it,” English teacher Heather Huhn said.

The occurrence of “Zoom bombings,” however, raised concerns on privacy. “Zoom bombings” are when outsiders attend calls and inappropriately disrupt private classes. Because Zoom links given for classes can be made public easily, those who should not be in the call are able to join them and cause havoc. Hackers and anonymous students have invaded classrooms through Zoom and used obscene language or graphic images that are unacceptable for a classroom setting.

Zoom also allows the host to record their meetings, which has raised privacy concerns. Transcripts of the meetings contained video, audio, and chat text files, which included private messages sent between the host and other participants. There were also issues regarding the way Zoom has handled user data.

To protect the safety of students and teachers, Carranza ultimately decided to ban Zoom. “In order to best protect security and privacy, we are requiring schools to transition away from using Zoom as a virtual meeting tool for remote learning,” Carranza said in a letter to students and families.

Many students support the ban on Zoom due to their concerns regarding “Zoom bombings” and their negative impact on the learning environment. “‘Zoom bombings’ often display extremely hateful content that has no place in school,” junior Rachel Young said. “[The shift] will impede learning for a short period of time, but hopefully, we can come together to learn quickly how to use Microsoft Teams with the support of other teachers, students, and faculty.”

Other students felt that Zoom calls themselves were ineffective as a learning tool. “The ban on these Zoom calls will not stunt my education whatsoever. I feel as if the calls are a waste of time anyway, as all of my other teachers assign work through Google Classroom, and I am still learning and getting assessed properly through these difficult times,” junior Jason Gurchiani said in an e-mail interview.

On the other hand, some students have found the ban to be an unnecessary disturbance as Zoom was an adequate substitution for physical classes and an essential part of their remote learning. “The ban should be reconsidered because of the fact that classes can reconnect with each other, and they would be able to maintain their connections with teachers and peers,” junior Eric Wu said. “During this time of confusion and stress, there should be at least some sort of structure and guidelines that people should follow, and these online meetings can be an example of that."

Others had a positive experience with Zoom and found the ban to be inconvenient. “I cannot speak on the reason why Zoom was banned, but my experience with Zoom has mostly been positive. Everyone respected each other and understood that they are simply trying to make the best out of a bad situation,” junior Andrew Jiang said. “Even those who intruded into my class were courteous and civil. I do not believe moving platforms would affect my online learning at all. It is more of an inconvenience for the teachers, if anything.”

Despite the ban, Wu ultimately feels that it will not affect his remote learning. "I don't think the ban on Zoom will affect my online learning much because in most classes, we only use sources like Google Classroom to get our lessons, ask questions, and receive assignments," Wu said. "I don't have any classes that require Zoom necessarily, but I have two classes that have optional Zoom meetings where they go over some simple classwork."

In order to adapt to the change, teachers were recommended to shift to alternative virtual platforms, such as Google Meet and Microsoft (MS) Teams. Similar to Zoom, Google Meet and MS Teams are video conferencing apps with screen sharing and muting features. To accommodate the rise in telecommunication due to the pandemic, Google Meet’s premium features, such as recording a meeting and the ability to hold larger meetings of up to 250 participants, are free for all Google suite users until September 30.

Despite this, some teachers prefer using Zoom over Google Meet because of its unique and user-friendly features. “[Google Meets] has poor video compression/transmission (my students’ machines are overheating), no gallery view, no ‘Zoom hands,’ no ability to kill a meeting when you leave, and a self-view that is too small for the presenter—but at least it is already embedded in our [Google domain] and is far superior to MS Teams,” computer science teacher Topher Mykolyk said in an e-mail interview.

Though the transition to a different platform may be difficult after being accustomed to using Zoom, teachers were given a week to learn how to navigate other platforms and phase out Zoom. “I was able to negotiate that we allow ourselves a full week to transition away from Zoom, and then we were able to get back access to live Google instruction,” Principal Eric Contreras said.

In addition, many teachers are readily adapting to the change. “Today, I tried Google Meet with some seniors. It seems fine; I prefer Zoom, but it’s just something I’m going to have to get used to, and I will,” Huhn said.

While many teachers have become used to using Zoom over the past month, they acknowledge the reason behind the ban of Zoom in favor of safer options. “I wish that we did have the ability to use it, that it was safe. But at the end of the day, our students’ safety and information were more important than everything else, and it’s being recommended that we shouldn’t use it,” Assistant Principal of World Languages, Music, and Art Francesca McAuliffe said. “I will learn Google Meets, and I will make sure that I can make it as comfortable for the students and staff as possible.”

With the cooperation of students, the transition has been smooth for many classes. “It was a pretty seamless transition from regular classes. We didn't have any connection problems; everyone was there on time. We did the lessons in normal time,” junior Sebastien Beurnier said.

Contreras hopes that the DOE will allow for remote learning over Zoom again once privacy issues have been resolved. “Most of our teachers addressed the safety issue within the first week; they added things like passwords; they added things like waiting rooms. So there are ways to navigate mitigating the safety concerns,” he said. “I’m hopeful that Zoom can actually come back because I think it’s a much more fluid system as far as use.”