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Zoom logo[1]

Zoom (Zoom Video Communications, Inc.) is a telecommunications company that offers its users the ability to meet for free (with optional subscription) online through their video conferencing platform. With the free version of Zoom, hosts can hold meetings up to 40 minutes long with up to 100 participants. Additionally, if users are interested in holding longer meetings with more participants, they can purchase a subscription for about $15-20 per month.[2] When a host starts a meeting, they are able to send an online invitation with a link to the meeting to whoever they would like to attend. As Zoom usage increases, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, conversations have been brought up about the ethical implications of Zoom in reference to furthering the Digital Divide, Zoom-bombing and a hidden web server vulnerability.

Zoom Features

Zoom's User Interface[3]


Zoom allows users to send messages throughout the duration of the meeting. Users can send messages to individual participants or to everyone in the meeting. Meeting hosts receive a copy of the chat at the end of a meeting, allowing them to save all messages sent in the Zoom call's chat box, including messages sent privately between attendees.

Screen Share

Participants in the meeting have the opportunity to share their screen. This means that everyone else in the meeting can see what is on the person’s screen and follow along with whatever it is the person is doing/showing in real time. Participants, if granted permission, also have the ability to take control of the person who is sharing’s computer controls. This means they can control their mouse and keyboard, allowing them to directly interact with the person’s screen remotely from their own device. There are multiple different options for screen sharing, users can share their entire desktop/phone screen, one or more specific applications, a portion of their screen, an interactive whiteboard, another iPhone/iPad screen, audio, and more.


Zoom meetings can be recorded and saved for viewing at a later time. Recordings can be started and stopped at any point and all participants have to agree to be recorded (if they don’t, they have the option to leave the meeting).


Hosts can launch single choice or multiple choice polls for their participants during meetings. Hosts can see the results and display them to the rest of the attendees during the meeting in addition to obtaining a report of the responses at the end of the meeting.


Meeting participants have the option to display different reactions during the course of a meeting by clicking different emojis, including clapping, thumbs up, heart, laughing face, open mouth face, and confetti. Participants can also alert the host to speed up or slow down or say “yes” or “no” to the host by hitting each button respectively. And, finally, participants can notify others that they may wish to speak by clicking the “raise hand” button which brings the participant’s video square to the top of the display.

Breakout Rooms

The host of the meeting can split the participants into breakout rooms. Each breakout room is essentially its own Zoom meeting and the host can close the breakout rooms and bring everyone back to the main call whenever. Participants can decide when they would like to leave the breakout room to return to the main call as well. When making the breakout rooms, the host can randomize the participants or put specific people in specific rooms. In addition, the host has the opportunity to give participants the chance to choose their own rooms by manually placing themselves into a room and choose to move to different rooms. When in a breakout room, the chat available to participants is only viewable by participants in that breakout room.

Waiting Room

Before the start of a meeting, a virtual “waiting room” is enabled for participants. In this room, participants can’t see other participants and are waiting to be admitted to the main room where the meeting actually takes place. The host has the ability to admit people into the main room one by one or all at once whenever they wish.

Virtual Backgrounds

The virtual background features allows users to display an image or video as their background during a Zoom meeting. This allows users a sense of privacy if they don't want to show the room they are in or where they are while they are in a meeting. Users can select backgrounds from default images or upload their own. [4] Participants can also blur their organic backgrounds.

History of Zoom

Zoom Founder, Eric Yuan[5]
Zoom was founded by Eric Yuan in 2011 and launched in January 2013. By May 2013, Zoom had one million participants.[2] Since then, the platform has grown and expanded its offerings to provide greater meeting capacity and duration. In January 2017, Zoom became a "Unicorn" after achieving a valuation of $1 billion.[2] In March 2019, Zoom went public at $36 per share. On the first day of trading, Zoom's stock price increased by over 72%.[2]
Growth in Zoom's userbase in early 2020[6]

During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom’s popularity rose greatly. Due to social distancing guidelines and lockdown orders, traditional in-person gatherings and activities were required to a virtually remote setting. This shift greatly benefited Zoom, whose user base skyrocketed from 10 million active users in late 2019 to 300 million active users by April 2020.[7]

Privacy Policy

According to its official privacy statement, Zoom is committed to protecting the privacy of its users. Zoom serves as a data controller as it determines what data to collect from users and how to use that data. For example, users provide Zoom with their date of birth, full name, and email address when they register. This information is used for several purposes, including displaying user information such as their full name, in meetings.[8]

When a user logs into a Zoom account, Zoom will ask them to accept the use of cookies. Zoom utilizes cookies to enhance the functionality of its site and to serve ads related to specific user interests.[9]

In March 2020, there were concerns by users and privacy experts about Zoom potentially collecting information from users’ meetings. According to Zoom's privacy policy, Zoom is able to use personal information for targeting ads on or off the platform, or for other business purposes.[10] As a result, Zoom updated its privacy policy to clarify details on data privacy. In a company blog post, Zoom’s Chief Operating Officer, Aparna Bawa, clarified that Zoom does not sell users’ data and it does not monitor meetings. In addition, the post clarified that no data regarding user activity on the Zoom platform- including video, audio, and chat content- is ever provided to third parties for advertising purposes.[11]


In responses to Zoom’s boost in popularity due to the coronavirus pandemic, many additional companies have made focused efforts to try and profit off of the increased need for video-conferencing software. Zoom is frequently hailed as the most popular due to its simplicity and ease of use. Many companies have tried to emulate the formula for its success.

Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp

At the start of the pandemic Facebook started to focus company efforts into video chat services. They integrated group chats for as many as 50 people on Facebook Messenger alongside basic video chat functionality for WhatsApp and Facebook Dating. [12]Mark Zuckerberg personally pushed Facebook development teams to additionally produce a desktop app for Facebook Messenger with a new video chat feature in under a month. His focus was to make video chatting a more serendipitous experience compared to what he described as a schedule like experience with Zoom.[12] Facebook Messenger now has built in functionality to call from a computer or mobile device.

Google Meet

Google Meet's grid view that drew similarities to Zoom [13]

Google started to quickly emphasize its video conferencing software Google Meet following Zoom’s success. Google was claimed to be disappointed that they weren’t being used at the scale of Zoom, especially given the availability of their software for numerous years. Efforts were made to integrate Google Meet directly into Gmail for seamless video conferencing along with a grid-style view that drew similarities to Zoom’s prominent grid view. [12]Additionally, Google adapted their software to include noise cancellation. Although Google Hangouts, Google’s other video chatting software, is not depreciated, Google has replaced Hangouts with Meet for all of its enterprise offerings in its Google Workplace platform. [12]

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Team's Dashboard View [14]

Microsoft Teams is Microsoft’s business communication platform with video conferencing software to compete with Zoom. Teams was partially made in response to the lack of success Microsoft’s platform Skype had at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Microsoft acquired Skype for $8.5 billion and was disappointed in its lack of success. Blame was put on development teams emphasizing new features instead of focusing on the core functionality and ease of use of the application. [15] Microsoft has scheduled to stop supporting Skype by July 2021 in an effort to fully support the development of Team’s in competing with Zoom and Slack. [15]


Houseparty is a social networking service that focuses on group video chatting. Its success has been attributed to how the platform has become popular among younger audiences through its emphasis on game playing features and its marketing language. The platform is more friend oriented and syncs with several social media accounts allowing users to easily sync up with their friends. Additionally, the platform does not enforce a strict time limit compared to Zoom’s free membership at 40 minutes. [16]

Verizon’s BlueJeans

Verizon purchased video-software company BlueJeans for $500 million in April 2020. [17]The purchase was considered by many to be a “bargain” and aligned with Verizon’s long term video strategy with their 5g platform. BlueJeans has claimed to have superior sound and audio quality than a large number of platforms in the video conferencing market.[17]

Cisco's Webex

While Zoom is the primary video-conferencing software, Cisco's Webex is just as popular, particular within businesses that require tight security on conference calls. Zoom covers the market of students, church services, casual meetings, happy hours, and everything in between. In contrast, Webex and Microsoft Teams cover business customers. Part of the reason for Webex's popularity among businesses is its high security. Webex is one of if not the most secure video conferencing platform on the market. It features Data Loss Prevention, and is compliant with regulations like HIPAA, FERPA, and PCI. Meeting data is protected in Webex conference calls, allowing companies such as banks and law firms to have secure calls which are absolutely crucial for business.[18] In March 2020, Webex had 324 million users, and over 600 million as of October 2020[19]. Webex plans to add features such as noise cancellation that could include silencing a dog barking in the background, or cars passing by, to keep meetings from distractions that occur so frequently during calls.[19]


Zoom’s business practices have come under fire for reportedly limiting freedom of speech. The company suspended the accounts of three human rights activists who hosted Zoom meetings discussing the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests held in the capital of China, Beijing.[20] The incident consisted of the government army opening fire and killing hundreds of protesters and is infamously censored in Chinese search engines.[21] The suspension came at the request of the Chinese government after memorials were held for victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre over the video communication platform. According to a timeline reported by the company, they were notified by the Chinese government about four large meetings held on June 4th, 2020 with the purpose of commemorating the historical event and were commanded to terminate the meetings and accounts of the hosts.[22] The accounts of Lee Cheuk-Yan, Wang Dan, and Zhou Fengsuo were shut down for scheduling and holding events about the incident.[23] Zoom addressed their actions by reinstating the suspended accounts and establishing “a new process for handling similar situations.”[24] When asked about the controversial move, CEO Eric Yuan stated that the company wanted to comply with local laws while also promoting freedom of speech as an American company.[25] Zoom has previously been accused of being submissive and too compliant with the Chinese government due to its product development team being largely based in China and its founder being a Chinese American immigrant.[26]

Ethical Implications

Furthering the Digital Divide in Education

The “digital divide” refers to the unequal access that different groups of people have to technology and the Internet.[27] One area impacted by the "digital divide" is online education. The quality of online education is heavily dependent on a student's internet connection.[28] Students lacking reliable internet connections are disadvantaged due to their inability to access and participate in their online classes. This gives an advantage to the students who have reliable, high-speed Internet as they will have better access to class materials and teachers. In addition, online education through Zoom is reliant on physical technology such as computers, laptops, and tablets. Many families are unable to provide their school-age children with dedicated devices, and must instead share their devices among multiple family members. Students in such families often face difficulties logging onto their classes or submitting their schoolwork on time due to other family members denying them access to the limited supply of technological devices. According to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, children from high-income households are twice as likely to have computer access than children from low-income households.[29] This "digital divide" places students living in low-income households at a disadvantage due to lack of devices and reliable Internet access.


With the rise of Zoom has also come the rise of “Zoom-bombing.” Zoom-bombing is when uninvited people join Zoom meetings for the sole purpose to disrupt and harass participants. Users can do this when they use a public zoom link rather than requiring a password to enter the meeting. [30] One example is when a virtual Holocaust memorial event was “bombed” by people showing photos of Adolf Hitler and yelling anti-Semitic phrases.[31] In another case, Zoom participants were forced to watch a video of children being sexually abused for several seconds before the host could remove the user displaying the video from the call. This has happened in several instances when calls are not private. While not all Zoom bombings are as severe as these examples, many "Zoom bombers" do this for fun, performing 20 attacks per day at times. It has been shown to severely affect the witnesses of Zoom bombing depending on the severity of the attack.[32]

macOS Hidden Web Server Vulnerability

In July 2019, a major security vulnerability was discovered in Zoom’s macOS application by security researcher Jonathan Leitschuh. The vulnerability allowed any website, including those not owned by Zoom, to launch a video-enabled Zoom call on a user’s computer without that user’s permission. As soon as a user visited a compromised website, their webcam would be turned on and they would enter an unwanted Zoom call, broadcasting their face and surroundings to potentially malicious actors.[33]

This vulnerability also uncovered a more significant security flaw. One of Zoom’s notable features is the ability for hosts to share links that will automatically launch the desktop Zoom app of attendees once clicked. The method by which Zoom’s engineers implemented this feature on macOS was discovered by Leitschuh to involve a hidden web server. Whenever a user clicked on a Zoom call’s share link, this hidden web server would be pinged and would then launch the Zoom desktop application.[34]

A Zoom installation in-progress on macOS[35]

This hidden web server would initially be downloaded alongside the Zoom desktop app, but would stay installed even after a user deleted their Zoom app. Furthermore, this web server could be used to automatically reinstall Zoom without the user’s permission or knowledge. In conjunction with the compromised website flaw, this would allow a malicious actor to secretly hijack the webcams of unsuspecting victims as long as they had installed the Zoom desktop application in the past. Even those users who already deleted their Zoom app were at risk due to the vulnerabilities.[36]

Leitschuh initially gave Zoom’s security team a 90 day headstart to fix the flaws. However, due to Zoom’s lack of action regarding the vulnerabilities, Leitschuh wrote a public blog post in order to draw attention towards the issue.[37] Due to mounting public pressure, Zoom quickly released a new version of their desktop app with the vulnerabilities fixed. As an additional precaution, Apple Inc., the creators of macOS, pushed an emergency security patch to all macOS computers worldwide to remove the vulnerabilities.[38]

Zoom Legal Precautions and Concerns

We must all comply with the law regardless of where we are located or how we are connecting[39].

There are privacy laws to consider, obligations to protect private information, and the more general right of privacy. Telecommunications and recording laws regulate private conversations. Your relationship with other participants may give rise to an obligation of confidentiality, impliedly or from your pre-existing contractual or workplace arrangements. The recordings themselves can be considered property and subject to copyright laws. The recording of private conversations or activities requires the consent of participants.[40]

All meetings held in Zoom that include course content or student information are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Generally, student meetings and classes should not be recorded unless necessary. When recording class sessions or meetings in Zoom to protect student privacy, Tell students that you will be recording this is required by law, do not share recordings that include personally identifiable student information with anyone not enrolled in the course. Consider implementing asynchronous lectures, remove students' videos from recordings before posting, and include adequate details explaining the purpose of recordings and protections in your class.[41] For students concerned with privacy, encourage students to mute their mics and turn off their video camera if the session is being recorded.

Generally, the recording of private conversations should not occur without the consent of the participants of a meeting. In a video meeting, the owner of a copyright is the person who created the content, so technically the recording itself is the property of the meeting host (in law, this is called a 'derivative work'). However, the sharing of screenshots of private meetings and conversations can be a privacy breach. [42] Although you cannot stop students from using local or personal technology to record a meeting, you can disable cloud recording settings, to limit liability.

Practicing responsibility & privacy on zoom. [43]

  • Visibility of Remote Work Locations

Participants should use Zoom's virtual background feature when available if they do not want to have their surroundings visible. Managers should avoid requiring staff to use Zoom meeting settings that leave staff living areas visible.

  • Screen Sharing Privacy

Protecting Confidential Data on Your Device from Being Viewed: Avoid sharing confidential information visible on your other screens. Before screen sharing, close all applications, emails, and documents that you will not use in that session. Zoom default settings for the campus are set to limit screen sharing to the host. The host can also allow screen sharing by participants. Options are available by clicking on the up arrow by the Share Screen icon. The host can select the "host-only" setting to prevent others from sharing their screens. If the host determines that screen sharing by participants is needed, sharing by "one participant at a time" should be selected. The host should remind participants not to share other sensitive information during the meeting inadvertently.

  • Obtaining consent

Meeting hosts may also choose to explicitly require consent to be recorded via Zoom. Attendees who do not consent will be denied access to the meeting, so we suggest its use only after you've communicated with your attendees, given them a chance to express any concerns, and determined an alternative for individuals who have not consented.

Managing Participants

Some essential tips for limited preventing unwanted attendees or Zoom Bombing are listed below:

  • Don't post-meeting IDs in public forums.
  • Don't reuse meeting access codes. You can generate a new access code for each meeting.
  • Monitor participant list for unwanted attendees
  • Using Zoom settings for meeting participants, the meeting host can:
  • Limit attendance to participants who are signed in to the meeting
  • Set up a Waiting Room Function
  • Set up Password protect meeting access
  • Lock meetings once they start.
  • Mute participants who are not presenting
  • Remove unwanted participants
  • Disable private chat
  • More info at Settings for Preventing Zoom Bombing Page


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