Zoom use banned among New York City schools

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Educators who use Zoom for remote learning have been told to transition to another platform due to security concerns

Schools are banning use of the video conferencing application Zoom amid mounting privacy concerns. 

In recent months, the app’s use has skyrocketed as a result of the spike in people working from home due to the coronavirus crisis. At the end of March, the app had 200 million daily meeting participants -- up from 10 million in December. 

But the platform’s founder and CEO, Eric Yuan, has admitted that the app has shortcomings in the area of security. Incidents of harassment known as “Zoombombing” -- where a hacker disrupts a meeting with racist remarks, aggressive language, pornographic content or even death threats -- have taken place recently, prompting schools to discontinue using the app. 

Schools banning Zoom use

On Friday, New York City’s Department of Education asked NYC schools to cease use of Zoom immediately and instead transition to alternative platforms for conducting virtual classes, such as Microsoft Teams. 

“In the course of its credentialing process, the DOE has received various reports documenting issues that impact the security and privacy of the Zoom platform. Based on the DOE’s review of these documented concerns, the DOE will no longer permit the use of Zoom at this time," the Department said in a memo seen by ChalkBeat

“Schools should move away from using Zoom as soon as possible. We will support staff and students in transitioning to different platforms such as Microsoft Teams that have the same capabilities with appropriate security measures in place,” the DOE said. 

DOE officials say Microsoft Teams complies with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, making it a safer video meeting app than Zoom is currently. 

Security concerns under investigation

A few weeks ago, New York Attorney General Letitia James sent a letter to Zoom demanding to know what measures Zoom has put in place to handle the dramatic increase in traffic on its network. 

James described the platform as “an essential and valuable communications” tool. However, she expressed concern that the company has been slow to address security flaws such as vulnerabilities “that could enable malicious third parties to, among other things, gain surreptitious access to consumer webcams.”

Zoom steps up security  

In a blog post last Wednesday, Yuan outlined a number of steps Zoom’s team has taken to improve security. At the end of March, Zoom launched a guide for administrators on how to set up a virtual classroom and how to better secure those classrooms. 

Additionally, Yuan said Zoom established a dedicated K-12 privacy policy and modified the settings for education users enrolled in the K-12 program so that virtual waiting rooms are on by default and teachers are the only ones who can share content in class.

“Transparency has always been a core part of our culture,” Yuan wrote. “I am committed to being open and honest with you about areas where we are strengthening our platform and areas where users can take steps of their own to best use and protect themselves on the platform.” 

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