• Zoom announced the addition of end-to-end encryption to video calls.
  • The security feature will be available in the near future, thanks to the acquisition of Keybase.
  • Only paid Zoom accounts will be able to take advantage of it, with subscriptions starting at $14.99 per month.
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The novel coronavirus pandemic forced us to spend more time indoors than ever in recent history. Those who were able to study or work from home replaced their daily rituals with a different environment, one dominated that all sorts of video chat apps that made working from home possible. Zoom rose as the star video conferencing app during the early days of the pandemic, but the more popular it got, the clearer it was the software had some serious privacy and security issues. One of them concerned user data security, as people found out the end-to-end encryption that Zoom claimed protected each video call wasn’t exactly end-to-end encryption. Zoom was using its own form of encryption, which allowed it to access contents from video and audio calls, which is hardly reassuring.

In light of the revelations, Zoom promised to fixed its glaring security issues, and the latest move concerns end-to-end encryption. Your video calls will finally get it. But only if you pay, because end-to-end encryption will not be rolling out to free Zoom calls.

Adding end-to-end encryption to video chat apps that support multiple people isn’t necessarily easy and can’t be cheap. Yet Apple is doing it with FaceTime, and FaceTime does it with WhatsApp. Those calls are end-to-end encrypted, whether they’re audio or video chats. But Zoom chose to mislead customers with the capabilities of its own service before the issue was discovered. What Zoom does is to encrypt the data during transport, from its servers to users. And that’s what gave it access to call contents.

Zoom on Thursday announced the purchase of New York-based startup Keybase, which deals in encrypted messaging and cloud services. That technology will be used to bolster the security of Zoom video calls. “We are excited to integrate Keybase’s team into the Zoom family to help us build end-to-end encryption that can reach current Zoom scalability, wrote Zoom CEO Eric Yuan in a blog post.

“We believe this will provide equivalent or better security than existing consumer end-to-end encrypted messaging platforms, but with the video quality and scale that has made Zoom the choice of over 300 million daily meeting participants, including those at some of the world’s largest enterprises,” he said about Zoom’s upcoming security features.
Yuan also said the company will not build a mechanism to decrypt live meetings for “lawful intercept purposes,” or a backdoor.

The CEO added that “Zoom will offer an end-to-end encrypted meeting mode to all paid accounts” at some point soon, making it clear that the free version of the app will not get the same kind of security. You’ll have to pay at least $14.99 per month to get the feature.

Adding actual end-to-end encryption is certainly a welcome step for an app that’s otherwise easy to use for any sort of video calls, whether it’s work or personal. But we also shouldn’t forget that Zoom could have made it clear from the start that the service wasn’t providing the kind of security certain enterprise customers may have been looking for.

Comparatively, Google Meet and Facebook Rooms do not have end-to-end encryption for video calls either, but they’ve never claimed they do.

Chris Smith started writing about gadgets as a hobby, and before he knew it he was sharing his views on tech stuff with readers around the world. Whenever he's not writing about gadgets he miserably fails to stay away from them, although he desperately tries. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.