When it comes to videoconferencing, Google appears to have learned a thing or two from Zoom's privacy stumbles.
Google on Wednesday announced that its Google Meet video service — the premium offering that's usually for businesses — will soon be available for free to the general public.
When making the announcement, the search giant listed the security and privacy protections that Meet has in place, seeming to set up a stark contrast to competitor Zoom, which has come under scrutiny for multiple security issues over the last couple of months.
Google Meet, which will be rolling out over the coming weeks, has several safety measures turned on by default, according to Google. Some of those features are intended to give hosts direct control over who can participate in a meeting.
The service allows the host to allow or deny entry into a meeting, provides hosts the ability to remove participants if needed, and prohibits anonymous users without Google accounts from joining meetings, the company said in a blog post. Google also said its meeting codes are complex enough to prevent them from being vulnerable to brute force hacks.
That comes after Zoom has grappled with an issue that's come to be known as “Zoombombing,” a type of online harassment that involves random participants joining Zoom meetings, often to bombard attendees with offensive content. The FBI said in late March that it had received multiple reports of Zoombombing, including two instances occurring to schools in Massachusetts. The phenomenon has caused multiple organizations and companies to prohibit Zoom usage, including Google and The New York Department of Education.
Zoom has since addressed this concern by requiring passwords when a user tries to enter a video call by just using the meeting ID without the meeting link. It has also turned on virtual waiting rooms by default so that meeting hosts can exercise discretion over who joins the meeting.
Zoom also recently added stronger encryption among other privacy enhancements to its platform, after a March report from The Intercept had raised questions about the quality of Zoom's encryption. Google said its video meetings through Meet are encrypted in transit and when stored in Google Drive.
Despite its privacy issues, Zoom has skyrocketed in popularity over the past couple of months as the coronavirus pandemic has required people to work and socialize from home. Zoom now has 300 million users, a jump from the 200 million daily chat participants it reported in March and its previous record of 10 million as of December 2019. It's become so popular that even a Google executive's child reportedly prefers Zoom over Google's video tool.
Google has also recently added features to Meet that first became popular through Zoom, like background noise cancellation and a tiled view that lets you see multiple people on screen at once.
Google isn't alone in boosting its video chat services following Zoom's explosive growth. Facebook also recently announced that it's launching 50-person video chatrooms, putting it at direct competition with Zoom and others. Microsoft is also making its Teams video and chat software available for consumers.