Zoom, Meet or Skype? Conducting research in a time of physical distancing

Updated: Jun 16



My research focus is on AI researchers and how they are navigating ethical considerations in their work. I’m exploring issues around data, data storage, privacy – all of which is also relevant for my own research.


I originally planned to conduct one-on-one in person interviews which are the gold standard for qualitative research. When COVID-19 physical distancing requirements made this impossible, I had to revise my approach and move everything online. The big question I’m wrestling with right now is: Which online video conferencing platform is the most responsible option to use to conduct online interviews?


Zoom

I’ve used Zoom extensively in the past. It’s simple to invite external guests and “seemed” to be fairly secure. However, with a massive influx of new users in the past few weeks, numerous security concerns have been exposed. This includes everything from Zoombombing, where unwanted attendees take over a meeting, to privacy issues around the sale and sharing of data with third parties including Facebook, to the company misrepresenting its encryption standards.


A Washington Post investigation found numerous Zoom videos of supposedly private meetings posted online –including video of grade school students, therapy sessions and even a tutorial for how to do a Brazilian wax! Why someone thought THAT was a good idea to do on ANY online video confercing platform is baffling.


This post by security expert Bruce Schneier nicely sums up the major areas for concern – lax user settings (fairly easy to correct) and the company’s poor privacy and security practices (harder to fix). Zoom has rolled out some patches to address the most egregious security issues, but Schneier’s assessment is that “Zoom is a security and privacy disaster”. The FBI seems to concur and has issued it’s own warning. Zoom has since been banned by a number of governments, educators and companies.


Google Meet

Meet is the enterprise version of Google Hangouts. It’s provided by my university as part of our G-suite toolset. Meet and Hangouts are not exactly the same. Meet provides a greater level of security and user control. I can’t seem to find too many articles about security issues via a (Google) search about Meet - maybe not surprising!


Google is well positioned to capitalize on Zoom’s pitfalls. The company recently posted an article touting Meet’s superior security settings. Yet, what keeps it secure – the fact that its fully insulated within the Googleverse - is the very thing that gives me pause. For example, in terms of my research, I can record the interviews to the cloud (Google Drive) but there is no option for a local recording to my own device (an option which is available on Zoom). This means I must store my data with Google. Also, I wonder if Google is using my data - facial recognition and voice recognition - to improve their products? Probably.


My biggest issue with Google Meet is that it’s Google. Using yet another Google product reinforces a monopoly position for a company that already controls so many aspects of our lives. I realize this privacy and security concern is perhaps more philosophical than practical but it’s still an issue worth raising.


Skype (Microsoft Teams)

In 2011 Microsoft purchased Skype. The product has been offered both as a personal (free) platform simply known as Skype and the enterprise (paid) Skype for Business. Skype for Business is now being rebranded and rolled into Microsoft Teams, which seems be Microsoft’s answer to Slack and Zoom rolled into one. They call it “a hub for teamwork”.

I have access to Teams through one of my consulting clients. I have to say the experience of using Teams has felt “clunky”. It’s not unlike how I feel about Microsoft Sharepoint. The way it works just feels like a product that was pulled together from other products and then branded as an integrated suite.


There are also privacy issues that have been raised. This article on CNET outlines how Microsoft essentially wiretapped Skype use in order to improve the product which according to the article seems to be wide spread industry practice. That issue aside, Teams does seem to be a secure environment given how its set up and administered. However, that security also makes it slightly less easy to invite outside participants onto the Teams environment. As for the free version of Skype, it’s had its own security issues and is not a fully encrypted platform.


There are other video conferencing options. Cisco Webex, Adobe Connect on the enterprise side, open source platforms like Jitsi and start-up options like Wire, Houseparty or Whereby. This isn’t a comprehensive list and I certainly don’t have the time or inclination to review everything. I do know that I am going to have to pick something and it will come down to a combination of accessibility and weighing the security, privacy and corporate ethics trade-offs.

-- Katrina Ingram


#research #VideoConferencing #Skype #GoogleMeet #Zoom #COVID