Zoom to offer end-to-end encryption to free users but there's a catch

Zoom is that kind of product that everyone loves to hate but still remains one of the most widely-used in its field. Time and again, the company that is close to officially becoming a verb has been involved in one privacy or security scandal or another, including one that is being linked to the Chinese government. One of the most recent issues that has earned it no small amount of criticism is withholding its end-to-end encryption or E2EE from its free users. Zoom has now backtracked on that stance but it comes with a small catch.

Zoom's official reason for not providing E2EE on its free tier was already controversial. It was so that they could easily comply with the authorities' request for user data in the course of an investigation. This was in response to criticism of how Zoom's easy-to-use service is also being used to easily commit crimes. Its decision pretty much lumps all legit free users with less conscientious ones and treating them all the same with no presumption of privacy.

Because of those unpopular remarks, Zoom has reconsidered and will enable E2EE on free tiers but it will demand something from free users in return. In able to use that encryption, those users will have to submit some sort of information, like verifying their phone number, to at least have something Zoom can hand over to law enforcement when asked. It says that many leading companies use the same strategy to discourage bad actors from exploiting the service.

The E2EE feature won't be coming immediately, with the beta test starting only in July. Even then, encryption is completely optional and hosts or account administrators can decide on a per-meeting or per-account basis, depending on performance requirements. Enabling E2EE will prevent those connecting via traditional PSTN lines from joining, for example.

In the meantime, other companies like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook have been scrambling to take advantage of Zoom's unfavorable public image. Google, in particular, has been aggressively pushing its Meet platform to fill that need, perhaps to the point of irking some users who now have to bother with Meet-related features in other services like Gmail or Google Calendar.