During our global COVID-19 self-quarantining, video conferencing usage has exploded. I’ve tried to find hard statistics, but they’re rising so fast that anything I post now will be stale tomorrow. That said, I’ve seen usage growth figures as high as 400%. And since we’re all staying home now (right?), video chatting is a great way to get some social time with friends and family. One of the key beneficiaries of this surge is the video conferencing company Zoom. It’s free and simple to use – and it looks and sounds pretty good. But this escalation in usage has exposed many problems with both security and privacy. Thankfully, there are many Zoom alternatives out there. And as a bonus, I’ll tell you about some fun ways to play games together online.
In case you need some reasons to seek alternatives, let me just give you a sampling of the headlines from the past week:
- Thousands of Zoom video calls left exposed on open Web
- Zoom Removes Data-Mining LinkedIn Feature
- Don’t believe Zoom: Its video calls are not encrypted end-to-end
- Zoom iOS App Sends Data to Facebook Even if You Don’t Have a Facebook Account
For a good summary of all the ways Zoom has screwed up, see this blog by Bruce Schneier. In summary, Zoom has done a horrible job with its security and their privacy story is dreadful. With all of this negative press, Zoom has ended some of the most egregious privacy practices and have vowed to clean up their security problems. But as Bruce said: “That’s what we know about Zoom’s privacy and security so far. Expect more revelations in the weeks and months to come. “
[UPDATE: Zoom is taking some serious steps to addressing their privacy and security problems. And there are also some steps you can take to improve things as they are now. But I would still recommend trying some of the solutions below.]
Thankfully, there are many alternatives to Zoom – some are even good. While Google Duo and Google Hangouts are popular, Google’s entire business model requires that they know as much about you as possible. The same is true for WhatsApp (Facebook) and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Skype (Microsoft).
Here are some much better options (all of which are end-to-end encrypted):
- Facetime. If everyone you want to talk to happens to have a Mac, iPhone or iPad, then Facetime is a great option.
- Jitsi. If you have folks using Windows or Android, try Jitsi. It’s free, open-source and secure – and it requires no account whatsoever. If you’re on a computer, you don’t even have to install an app. Just create a custom meeting link and send it to whoever you want to talk to.
- Signal. This will require you to register and download an app, but it’s pretty much the gold standard in privacy and security.
Playing Board & Card Games Remotely
Here are a few websites/apps that allow you to play card games and popular board games remotely, and many of them are free. If you’re stuck at home, you can still interact and have some fun!
- Tabletopia: https://tabletopia.com/
- Tabletop Simulator: https://www.tabletopsimulator.com/
- Trickster Cards: https://www.trickstercards.com/
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