Using Zoom and Houseparty for meetings
With the Covid-19 lockdown, video-conferencing has eventually become mainstream. It always had a niche market, but in general, and especially for sailing folk, face-to-face meetings, with the inevitable coffee and biscuits, as well as a bit of social interaction, have had tremendous momentum. Until now.
Enter Zoom and Houseparty: almost overnight their number of users multiplied like a corona virus.
And shortly after, the ‘hacking’ claims flooded in, and users were ‘advised’ to delete the app they had recently downloaded. If you look into the claims, they fall into a couple of main categories.
- bombing: where unwelcome or uninvited participants join in;
- hacking: where it is claimed that supposedly secure information is accessed.
In the first case some of the reason was naïveté, on the part of both the application writers and the application users. The power to restrict participants was always there, just not by default. Zoom in particular was caught by this, and has since changed its defaults so that it does not happen (but make sure you have the latest version). A good account of how you should secure your Zoom meeting is here. A handy one page printable summary for hosts (whoever initiated the meeting) is available here.
In the second case, there is as yet no substantiated, verifiable instance of accessing secure information. And deleting the app would not cure the problem. Any malware downloaded as part of the app would still be there on your device, even after you deleted the app. But it didn't happen anyway, at least not because you downloaded this particular app. Party on dude! More information about Houseparty and its security issues are here.
For some people video meetings take a bit of getting used to.
Some hints and advice for getting the best ‘experience’, targetted in particular for Zoom, are given here, but the notions apply more widely.
What to wear? Unsubstantiated chatter has it that you only need to be presentable from the waist up. More seriously, there are some colour combinations and patterns that really don't work over video. We've all seen people on television wearing some garment that really jars and somehow drives the video into overload.
Do remember that your image can be seen all the time by the other participants, not just when you have centre stage. And they can see whatever is behind you.
These apps, or the versions we are likely to be using are available for free. How do they do it? Partly by selling more sophisticated versions. But, and it's a big but: “If itís free online, you are the product”. Be warned, be wary, be safe out there (right at the minute, don't go out there!).