Zoom's Commitment to User Security Depends on Whether you Pay It or Not
Zoom was doing so well…. And now we have this:
Corporate clients will get access to Zoom’s end-to-end encryption service now being developed, but Yuan said free users won’t enjoy that level of privacy, which makes it impossible for third parties to decipher communications.
“Free users for sure we don’t want to give that because we also want to work together with FBI, with local law enforcement in case some people use Zoom for a bad purpose,” Yuan said on the call.
This is just dumb. Imagine the scene in the terrorist/drug kingpin/money launderer hideout: “I’m sorry, boss. We could have have strong encryption to secure our bad intentions from the FBI, but we can’t afford the $20.” This decision will only affect protesters and dissidents and human rights workers and journalists.
Here’s advisor Alex Stamos doing damage control:
Nico, it’s incorrect to say that free calls won’t be encrypted and this turns out to be a really difficult balancing act between different kinds of harms. More details here:
Some facts on Zoom’s current plans for E2E encryption, which are complicated by the product requirements for an enterprise conferencing product and some legitimate safety issues. The E2E design is available here: https://github.com/zoom/zoom-e2e-whitepaper/blob/master/zoom_e2e.pdf
I read that document, and it doesn’t explain why end-to-end encryption is only available to paying customers. And note that Stamos said “encrypted” and not “end-to-end encrypted.” He knows the difference.
Yuan sought to assuage users’ concerns Wednesday in his weekly webinar, saying the company was striving to “do the right thing” for vulnerable groups, including children and hate-crime victims, whose abuse is sometimes broadcast through Zoom’s platform.
“We plan to provide end-to-end encryption to users for whom we can verify identity, thereby limiting harm to vulnerable groups,” he said. “I wanted to clarify that Zoom does not monitor meeting content. We do not have backdoors where participants, including Zoom employees or law enforcement, can enter meetings without being visible to others. None of this will change.”
Notice that is specifically did not say that he was offering end-to-end encryption to users of the free platform. Only to “users we can verify identity,” which I’m guessing means users that give him a credit card number.
The Twitter feed was similarly sloppily evasive:
We are seeing some misunderstandings on Twitter today around our encryption. We want to provide these facts.
Zoom does not provide information to law enforcement except in circumstances such as child sexual abuse.
Zoom does not proactively monitor meeting content.
Zoom does no have backdoors where Zoom or others can enter meetings without being visible to participants.
AES 256 GCM encryption is turned on for all Zoom users—free and paid.
Those facts have nothing to do with any “misunderstanding.” That was about end-to-end encryption, which the statement very specifically left out of that last sentence. The corporate communications have been clear and consistent.
Come on, Zoom. You were doing so well. Of course you should offer premium features to paying customers, but please don’t include security and privacy in those premium features. They should be available to everyone.
And, hey, this is kind of a dumb time to side with the police over protesters.
I have emailed the CEO, and will report back if I hear back. But for now, assume that the free version of Zoom will not support end-to-end encryption.
EDITED TO ADD (6/4): Another article.
EDITED TO ADD (6/4): I understand that this is complicated, both technically and politically. (Note, though, Jitsi is doing it.) And, yes, lots of people confused end-to-end encryption with link encryption. (My readers tend to be more sophisticated than that.) My worry that the “we’ll offer end-to-end encryption only to paying customers we can verify, even though there’s plenty of evidence that ‘bad purpose’ people will just get paid accounts” story plays into the dangerous narrative that encryption itself is dangerous when widely available. And I disagree with the notion that the possibility of child exploitation is a valid reason to deny security to large groups of people.
Matthew Green on this issue. An excerpt:
Once the precedent is set that E2E encryption is too “dangerous” to hand to the masses, the genie is out of the bottle. And once corporate America accepts that private communications are too politically risky to deploy, it’s going to be hard to put it back.
Want to help us work on end-to-end encrypted group video calling functionality that will be free for everyone? Zoom on over to our careers page….