Innovation

SpaceX drops Zoom due to ‘significant’ privacy concerns

The space technology firm has decided to drop the video conferencing app.

Bloomberg/Bloomberg/Getty Images

SpaceX has banned employees from using video conferencing service Zoom, according to a Wednesday report. A memo claimed the firm had "significant privacy and security concerns" about using the app. The ban comes amid widespread questions around Zoom's privacy as businesses look to home video conferencing solutions.

In the March 28 memo, seen by Reuters, SpaceX wrote:

“We understand that many of us were using this tool for conferences and meeting support [...] Please use email, text or phone as alternate means of communication.”

NASA, which SpaceX works with on projects including the Dragon cargo launches, also prohibits the use of Zoom.

The ban comes amid broad questions around the security surrounding Zoom. The company claims it reached 200 million daily participants in the month of March, as more people work from home during the global coronavirus pandemic. Traffic analytics firm SimilarWeb found a 535 percent jump in visitors to the company's homepage in the month of March.

But Zoom has quickly come under fire for issues around security and privacy. Arvind Narayanan, associate computer science professor at Princeton University, went as far as to describe it to The Guardian as "malware."

Before its spike in usage, a July 2019 flaw enabled attackers to access a Mac's webcam if they had the Zoom app installed. This was due to how it installed a web server on a user's computer, a server that persisted even after Zoom was uninstalled.

More recent concerns have emerged. The Intercept reported this week that Zoom meetings were not end-to-end encrypted as it claimed, but were instead transport encrypted. The FBI has been investigating reports of "Zoom-bombing," as hackers jump into unsecured meetings. Another bug discovered this week enables a hacker to tap into a Mac user's webcam and microphone, while yet another can reveal passwords for Windows. Zoom was also found to be quietly sending data to Facebook with its iOS app.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has taken firm positions on privacy before. In March 2018, he deleted SpaceX and Tesla's Facebook pages amid the #DeleteFacebook movement. The movement, pushed by WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, came in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandals. SpaceX has remained open amid the coronavirus pandemic due to its status as an essential business, one that can be used for launching government satellites.

SpaceX's logo on a spacesuit.Bloomberg/Bloomberg/Getty Images

In a blog entry shared Wednesday, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan sought to quell some of these concerns. He explained that Zoom was designed as an enterprise product, and "we did not design the product with the foresight that, in a matter of weeks, every person in the world would suddenly be working, studying, and socializing from home."

Yuan explained the team had addressed some of the raised concerns. This included removing the attendee tracking feature, removing the Facebook SDK that was collecting data, and updating the privacy policy. In the coming days, Yuan claimed the team would enact a feature freeze for 90 days to focus efforts on security and privacy.

The Inverse analysis

The damage may already have been done for Zoom. Whether it's able to address further safety and security concerns, any reputation it had for effective communication on these topics has been diminished. SpaceX's ban suggests at least some firms will take note of these issues and take appropriate action. But whether these controversies would lead to any sort of mass exodus, as usage spikes during what is perceived as a temporary situation, is perhaps less clear.

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