Coronavirus: US Senators Advised To Avoid Using Zoom – Report

The US Senate has reportedly advised its members not to use the popular video conferencing app Zoom, due to privacy and security concerns.

According to the Financial Times, the Senate sergeant at arms has warned all senators against using the service. The FT cited three people briefed on the advice. They have been instructed to utilise alternative platforms when they are remote working.

Usage of Zoom has spiked during the Coronavirus pandemic, and has seen the company’s shares rise dramatically over the past few weeks.

Image credit: Zoom Video Communications

Zoom worries

Indeed, the British government held its first-ever video-conferenced Cabinet meeting a couple of weeks ago, and even the Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted a photo of himself using the application, in which a meeting ID was visible.

Image credit: UK Government/Twitter

The British government also pushed back amid criticism from some quarters over its use of Zoom. It said Zoom was used as many ministers were self-isolating at home, with no access to official government video conferencing systems.

But there has been strong criticism of the app over the lack of end-to-end encryption of meeting sessions, as well as routing of traffic through China.

There has also been criticism of “zoombombing”, where uninvited guests crashed meetings.

Zoom for its part has been trying to reassure and repair its reputation.

Zoom efforts

Last week chief executive Eric Yuan apologised publicly for making misleading statements about the strength of its encryption technology.

Yuan said he recognized “that we have fallen short of the community’s – and our own – privacy and security expectations. For that, I am deeply sorry, and I want to share what we are doing about it.”

And Zoom has also hired former Yahoo and Facebook security boss Alex Stamos as an advisor, after he began tweeting in late March, calling for Zoom to be more transparent and roll out a 30-day security plan.

Following those tweets, Zoom’s Eric Yuan called up Stamos, asking him to help the company build up its security, privacy and safety capabilities as an outside consultant.

Senate instruction

According to the FT report on the US Senate instruction not to use Zoom, one person who had seen the Senate warning said it told each senator’s office to find an alternative platform to use for remote working.

However, it seems that Zoom is not banned by the US Senate, as the person added it had stopped short of officially banning the company’s products.

It is fair to say that Zoom is struggling to reassure both investors and users of its app. Zoom’s shares have fallen more than 25 percent from highs just two weeks ago, to trade at $118.91.

This decline has triggered a lawsuit from a disgruntled shareholder.

A spokesperson for Zoom told the FT, “Zoom is working around-the-clock to ensure that universities, schools, and other businesses around the world can stay connected and operational during this pandemic, and we take user privacy, security and trust extremely seriously.

“We appreciate the outreach we have received on these issues from various elected officials and look forward to engaging with them.”

Tesla has reportedly already banned the use of Zoom, and on Wednesday this week Alphabet’s Google division banned the desktop version of Zoom from its corporate laptops.

It is also reported that Taiwan and Germany had already put restrictions on Zoom’s use.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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