Privacy in the Time of Pandemic: Video Calling

Last week I attended my first virtual birthday party. Through technology, we joined six different households in three different countries and three different time zones. I have to admit that our virtual party captured the essence and feel of a family gathering. Of course I would have preferred to see everybody in person, but for now it was better than nothing.

Due to social isolation requirements, many of us have been resorting to video calling more often. It can be a great alternative for connecting with people when you can’t be there physically.

However, since the pandemic requirements happened rather suddenly, it meant that things like convenience, and ease of use with video calling, were primary considerations. Sometimes they were even prioritized over things like privacy, quality, security, etc.

I love many aspects of video calling, but some features make me leery about using it. For example, the ability to record calls easily is something interesting to consider. For personal calls I wouldn’t be too worried about it, but in a business setting it could take on a new meaning.

As someone who manages information for a living, recording calls becomes a whole new type of medium that needs to be saved, managed, organized, described, etc. And in many cases, unless a transcript is available for the call, searching audio for content later can be tricky.

Another easily remedied hesitation I have is the video part. Once PCs started coming with built-in cameras, I started covering mine with heavy tape. I had read too many stories about cameras being turned on by spyware. Or of cameras accidentally being left on when they really should have been turned off. Covering the camera and setting options to default the camera to “off” are two strategies I employ.

My last hesitation has to do with the security. Ever since I read about a security flaw with Zoom last year that it would secretly reinstall itself on Macs and turn on the camera anytime, I’m extra careful about connecting to video calls. Also, a lot of articles were recently written about “zoombombing,” essentially when hackers were joining Zoom calls uninvited. I like that Zoom has made video calling so easy and uncomplicated, but this is a perfect example of when convenience and ease of use were prioritized over security and privacy.

Staying safe also means protecting yourself digitally while socially isolating.

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