Since the start of the coronavirus quarantine the use of video conferencing apps to stay in touch and keep working has increased dramatically.
One of the most popular is US-based Zoom, which allows people to sign up and use the service for free on iOS, Android, Windows or Mac. However, according to a report from Motherboard, the iOS version of Zoom is quietly sharing data with social media giant Facebook.
Even if a user doesn’t have a Facebook account, Zoom sends analytical data to Facebook because it uses the company’s software development kit (SDK) to operate. This isn’t anything remarkable – a lot of apps use Facebook’s SDK to add extra features or make it easier to link up with Facebook or sign in through the social network.
Some of the information Motherboard says is collected include when the app is launched, which device is being used, location data and phone carrier – all of which can be used to serve targeted adverts.
As more of the world switches to using online tools, it’s more important than ever to understand and be aware of privacy rights and risks.
‘I think users can ultimately decide how they feel about Zoom and other apps sending beacons to Facebook, even if there is no direct evidence of sensitive data being shared in current versions,’ Will Strafach, an iOS researcher and founder of privacy-focused iOS app Guardian, told Motherboard.
This isn’t the first time that Zoom has fallen foul of privacy concerns. Yesterday it emerged that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) have banned staff from using it because of security worries.
A message to MoD staff said: ‘We are pausing the use of Zoom, an internet-based video conferencing service, with immediate effect whilst we investigate security implications that come with it.’
The email added that a decision will then be made about whether to continue using the programme. A government spokesperson said: ‘In the current unprecedented circumstances the need for effective channels of communication is vital. NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) guidance shows there is no security reason for Zoom not to be used for conversations below a certain classification.’
Despite the MoD ban, pictures emerged of Boris Johnson using it to hold cabinet meetings with senior MPs and, presumably, discussing matters of national security.
One source commented that ‘it is astounding that thousands of MoD staff have been banned from using Zoom only to find a sensitive Government meeting like that of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet is being conducted over it’.
Paul Bischoff, from Comparitech.com which researches and tests out security, privacy and networking technology, said that Zoom is ‘exploding in popularity’ and use of the app is becoming more and more ‘commonplace’.
Zoom is free and available on iOS, Android, Windows and Mac (Zoom App)
Mr Bischoff said: ‘The software has no known serious vulnerabilities at the moment, but that doesn’t mean a hacker won’t find a new vulnerability tomorrow.
‘The company also collects some personal information about users and shares it with a few third parties.’
He added it is important to verify links and senders before clicking on them because ‘criminals will probably create phishing pages designed to look like Zoom pages, but they really just steal your passwords and other information.’
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