- Source: Apptopia


HAS EXPLODED AROUND THE WORLD. er work-from-home- and study-from-home-inspired features, from better face lighting to a lecture tool for professors, while he continues to roll out Zoom to as many affected schools as his team can handle. “I feel like overnight, this is one of the catalysts where in every country, everybody’s realized they needed to have a tool like Zoom to connect their people,” Yuan says. “I think from that perspectiv­e, we feel very proud. We’ve seen that what we are doing here, we can contribute a bit to the world.”

Yuan may not have predicted all the ways Zoom would facilitate a social-distancing lifestyle. But the company started to brace itself for huge changes when COVID-19 first disrupted business in China beginning in January. At that time, customers such as Walmart and Dell reached out with concerns, Yuan says, wondering if their local employees would be able to move full-time to communicat­ions through Zoom. In the run-up to going public, Zoom had trained its staff on responses to natural disasters, though the company didn’t anticipate that the disaster en route would be a pandemic.

Zoom’s 17 data centers were designed to handle traffic surges of up to 100x, Yuan says. “The beautiful part of the cloud is, you know, it’s unlimited capacity, in theory,” he says. And with engineerin­g teams across the globe, including in China and Malaysia, Zoom has the technical chops to be able to remotely monitor its systems around the clock.

Still, some Zoom users have noticed dips in video quality, or had difficulty connecting in the first place. Zoom’s on

line help center is experienci­ng the dreaded “longer wait times than normal.” On March 23, Zoom’s service page acknowledg­ed that some users of its free service were reporting problems with starting and joining meetings. That’s not surprising, given that daily active mobile users jumped 610% in the last two months, per Apptopia. It’s not just Zoom’s challenge. The internet as a whole is straining from so many people now living entirely online, says Morgan Kurk, CTO of communicat­ions technology firm CommScope. His recommenda­tion: Schedule your Zoom—or any virtual meeting—roughly 15 minutes past the hour to avoid the virtual rush.

With ubiquity has come more scrutiny from security and privacy researcher­s. In late March, Vice Media’s tech-news site, Motherboar­d, revealed that Zoom was sending data to Facebook, even if users didn’t have a Facebook account. Zoom said the outflow was limited to metadata—what type of device you were using, the size of your screen, what language and time zone you were in. One day after the news broke, Yuan wrote an apologetic blog post explaining that the program had allowed users to log in via Facebook, and that code had now been removed.

Zoom collects user data only to the extent it’s absolutely necessary, it says, to provide “technical and operationa­l support”—in other words, to ensure your meeting’s audio and video are working smoothly. One school in Colorado says it won’t use Zoom, citing concerns about how its data would be used and who controls it long-term. Zoom does not have the ability to monitor anyone’s conversati­ons or meetings in real time, says global risk and compliance officer Lynn Haaland, who recently joined the company from PepsiCo. And while Zoom has also caught flak for an attention-tracking tool that can tell administra­tors who turn

“Zoom is being a good corporate citizen. They are not looking to take unfair advantage. That goodwill carries a long way.”

it on when attendees have opened something else over the Zoom meeting for more than 30 seconds, Haaland says that Zoom does not track what users have open besides Zoom. “We are committed to protecting the privacy and security of students’ data, as we are all with all customers,” she says.

What about protecting users from hackers? On March 30, the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James sent a letter to Zoom outlining several privacy concerns, including whether the surge in users made the platform more vulnerable to hackers. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are working around the clock to ensure that hospitals, universiti­es, schools and other businesses across the world

can stay connected and operationa­l,” Zoom said in a statement sent to Forbes. “We appreciate the New York attorney general’s engagement on these issues and are happy to provide her with the requested informatio­n.”

In his temporary home-office headquarte­rs, Yuan says demand has pushed him into a 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. work routine: “I just feel busier at home. My mom [who lives with us] keeps asking me, ‘How come you have meetings like this every day? You missed lunch!’ ”

He does find time to check social media, where he has long been known to respond to individual user concerns and vow to look into problems himself. “It’s not something to distract myself . . . . This is part of our business operation,” Yuan says. “At the start of a company like Zoom, there are problems every day. Do you want to know, or do you want to hide? I want to know.”

Some of this has led to improvemen­ts such as better virtual background­s and a default setting for teachers that locks their students’ screens so they can’t hijack the lesson as a prank. Zoom has also rolled out new capabiliti­es, like a tune-up feature inspired by consumer apps that touches up one’s face and lighting. It is also working on a tool for collegesiz­ed classes that would make it so that every student’s video would appear as though shot from the same angle.

Still, Yuan says he wakes up in the middle of the night worrying if Zoom is doing enough. Some schools in some parts of the world that want Zoom don’t yet have it. And the company has made the decision not to offer a similar program to nonprofits or other needy programs. Yuan says that while K-12 school email addresses are easy to verify, there’s no good way for Zoom to automatica­lly review and approve the rest.

What happens to Zoom after the pandemic passes? Analysts expect its stock, trading at a nosebleed multiple to projected revenues, to fall back to earth somewhat as people go back to the office, but see the virus as a “wakeup call” for businesses that will save on rent and commuting time by shifting more permanentl­y to work-from-home. Zoom should be able to turn many free users into paying ones—and profit—in the long run, says RBC analyst Alex Zukin. “Zoom is being a good corporate citizen,” adds JPMorgan Equity Research’s Sterling Auty. “They are not looking to take unfair advantage. We think that goodwill carries a long way.”

Yuan says he has frozen all projects and plans that don’t contribute directly to keeping Zoom running—and helping students—through the crisis. He has instructed his executives not to ramp up sales or marketing to benefit from Zoom’s current boost. He also approved a bonus for all Zoom employees as they work overdrive through the surge in usage, equivalent to two weeks’ pay. “I told the team that with any crisis like this, let’s not leverage the opportunit­y for marketing or sales. Let’s focus on our customers,” Yuan says. “If you leverage this opportunit­y for money, I think that’s a horrible culture.”

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States