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Video Call 101: Check How Trustworthy Your Application Is


Video Call 101: Check how trustworthy your application is
Amid the pandemic, Mozilla encourages users to learn about privacy and security features and flaws in popular video call apps

Video call applications have become the absolute essentials for users’ activities at the moment. Even after the so-called ‘new normal’ is implemented, video calls would still be a great alternative to conduct business meetings, home schooling, appointments with doctors, and stay in touch with friends. But one thing users should pay attention to is how trustworthy this technology is in keeping our conversations safe and secure. 

Despite the growing concerns about the safety and security of internet-connected devices, unfortunately most of Indonesian users don’t really pay attention whether the video call apps they are using are really secure or not. This raises a question: Is our personal data being used in ways we may not have anticipated or expected?

To answer that question, Mozilla, as an advocate of Internet health, partnered up with Consumers International and the Internet Society to propose Five Minimum Security Standards. These standards require companies that are making connected devices should reasonably be expected to satisfy and make sure of the privacy and security of users' accounts. The standards consist of mandatory requirements in an application including Encryption, Security Updates, Strong Passwords, Vulnerability Management, and Privacy Practices.

Afterwards, Mozilla researchers dug into 15 apps to get privacy and security insights. In total, 12 apps met Mozilla’s Minimum Security Standards, including Zoom, Google Duo/Hangouts Meet, Apple FaceTime, Skype, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Jitsi Meet, Signal, Microsoft Teams, BlueJeans, GoTo Meeting, and Cisco WebEx. Meanwhile, three products that did not meet Mozilla’s Minimum Security Standards: Houseparty, Discord, and Doxy.me.

The Minimum Security Standards are just one layer of Mozilla’s findings. There are more insights uncovered by Mozilla’s research:

Competition is fierce in the video call app space — which is good news for consumers

Zoom has been criticized for privacy and security flaws which have become the headline of every news around the world. Because there are many other video call app options out there, Zoom acted quickly to address the concerns. Another thing is, when one company adds a feature that users really like, other companies are quick to follow. For example, Zoom and Google Hangouts popularized one-click links to get into meetings, and Skype recently added the feature. This shows how intense the competition in video calls apps from its feature to policy. 

All apps use some form of encryption, but not all encryption is equal

Not all apps use end-to-end encryption. End-to-end encryption means only those who are part of the call can access the call’s content. Other apps use client-to-server encryption, similar to what your browser does for HTTPS web sites. As your data moves from one point to another, it’s unreadable. Though unlike the end-to-end encryption, once your data lands on a company’s servers, it then becomes readable.

Video call apps targeting businesses have a different set of features than video call apps that targeting everyday use

Video call apps like FaceTime, Google Duo, Signal, and Houseparty have a very different set of video chat features and ease of use than business-oriented apps such as Zoom, BlueJeans, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco Webex. Users who want something simple may want to skip the B2B apps and use the general video call apps instead. For business users who want a fuller set of features and have money to purchase the premium account may want to go for the business-focused apps.

There is a diverse range of risks

Although Facebook doesn’t use the content of your messages for ad targeting, it does collect a lot of other personal information as well as  information about your contacts. Furthermore, WhatsApp is solid for video chat, and gets a bonus point for using end-to-end encryption on users’ messages and calls. However, it is sullied by an overwhelming amount of misinformation on the platform. Especially during this global pandemic, conspiracies and fake news are being spread across WhatsApp.

In addition to these surprising results from Mozilla’s research, there’s still good news that deserves to be shared. Mozilla finds that these 15 apps are all with a built-in recording feature that can alert participants when recording occurs. Secondly, most of the apps provide the ability to set rules of the video call, meaning accidents and trolls can quickly be dealt with.