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Heads of schools in New York, Washington, DC and Las Vegas have announced that they are no longer using the Zoom videoconferencing service for distance education due to security, privacy, harassment and other concerns. And individual schools in Los Angeles and elsewhere are also moving to alternatives, such as Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and WebEx.
As NPR reported last week, the FBI has issued a warning regarding incidents of disruption to the school’s Zoom meetings. Racist and pornographic images have been reported to be shown to young children. Some intrusions may come from students pranking their classmates, but Gizmodo said there are also online “Zoombombing” campaigns.
Zoom has grown in popularity as people around the world take shelter to protect themselves from the spread of the coronavirus. This is partly due to the fact that Zoom meetings can be configured to be accessible from anywhere by anyone with just a web link – no accounts or software downloads required. But this ease of use also makes it easier for intruders to introduce themselves.
Although not intended as an educational technology product, the company announced that it would be used by kindergarten to grade 12 schools during school closings related to coronavirus, making available free of charge to teachers of premium features.
In a statement to NPR, Zoom referred educators to an updated set of safety tips and said it had updated the default settings for its education-based users to give more control to teachers and other meeting hosts.
“Zoom is committed to providing educators with the tools and resources they need on a safe and secure platform, and we are in ongoing dialogue with various school districts on how Zoom can be useful during this time. “
For students, parents and teachers, dropping Zoom once again means learning the ins and outs of a new video conferencing system. Some ask if wouldn’t be better to keep Zoom and just use the privacy and security controls that were always available.
Amelia Vance, a student privacy expert at the non-profit Future of Privacy forum, recommends that schools stick to platforms designed for education, like Google’s G Suite for Education.
Yet, considering that Zoom was not designed as an educational technology product, she says, “I don’t know that Zoom is worse, and it can in many ways be better than many platforms, especially when it this is for security, accessibility and certainly for ease of use. “
But, she says, Zoom could have anticipated these privacy concerns. “And now, Zoom has the very difficult task of trying to regain confidence. “