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Volume 23 No. 23
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Zoom’s meteoric rise is met with questions on privacy

Across the world in Israel, Aviv Arnon, the CEO and co-founder of technology startup WSC Sports, organized a Zoom cocktail party in early April, virtually uniting an eclectic mix of guests, including individuals from Facebook, Australia’s cricket industry and Germany’s Bundesliga, to talk about life and times amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That was mesmerizing to me,” said John Kosner, the former longtime ESPN Digital executive who was on the call. “You could ask a question: ‘When is sports coming back?’ And you’d get five different answers, all from a local perspective. That’s notably different than what my experience was for many, many years in the U.S. business.”

Zoom has become so ubiquitous it’s become a verb. As the nation, including the vast sports business world, grows accustomed to finding work-from-home routines, countless individuals over the past month have used the Zoom app for video conferencing, often with intermittent ambient noise of children in the background serving as a fitting soundtrack.

Zoom’s stock price reached a record high last month (closing at $159.56 on March 23) but has since sagged after attention on the San Jose-based company revealed a host of privacy concerns. Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto-based internet watchdog, found “significant weaknesses” in the encryption protecting the confidentiality of Zoom meetings. Some schools and businesses have stopped using the service, and a shareholder filed a class action lawsuit last week accusing the company of concealing the truth about shortcomings in the app’s software encryption.

The stock price was $122.50 at closing on April 8.

Andrew Robinson, the CTO for Dallas-based Event Dynamic, an AI-powered ticket pricing company, said the company uses Google Hangout and other video conferencing software sometimes as many as 20 times per day, calling the topic “a little bit of a religious war at this point.” 

“Zoom has some privacy concerns where they don’t encrypt end to end,” said Robinson, who oversees a team of 13 developers and data scientists who create and fine-tune algorithms to help teams dynamically price tickets. “We wouldn’t want to use it for our operation, just because we are talking about proprietary components to our technology that we wouldn’t want anybody to be able to copy or hear about.”

In an April 1 blog post, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said that the company in March reached 200 million daily meeting participants, up from 10 million in December. The next day, Zoom announced it was pausing feature updates for 90 days to focus on security and privacy issues. During a CNN interview, Yuan said the company “moved too fast” and acknowledged “some missteps.”

Keith Bank, a Chicago-area veteran of the venture capital industry, uses Zoom at least five times a day, and recently used it to stage a virtual birthday party for his wife and a virtual 83rd birthday party for his mother, zooming in guests worldwide. While competitors like Skype and Google Hangouts remain, Bank said Zoom has a “very easy-to-use interface and a great business model.”

Will Ahmed, the CEO and founder of the wrist-worn Whoop, uses Zoom often, calling it a “good product” that “does what it promises to do, which is connect people over video.”

Isn’t that the point? Kosner said after he recently posted about Zoom on LinkedIn, commenters soon rebutted him, citing privacy issues and so-called Zoom-bombing. 

“One thing I’ve learned is that good enough is frequently better than great,” Kosner said, adding that Zoom is a lesson in “trying to do one thing particularly well as opposed to a lot of big companies who will try to do something but it’s only one of the things they will do.”