- oom India head Sameer Raje says consumers love Zoom and they prefer it over competitors.
- He says talk about security and privacy is mostly misinformation.
- Zoom is working on end-to-end encryption, although calls through Zoom Cloud are already well encrypted.
Zoom is already a household name in India. The video conferencing app that was unheard of earlier has now overshadowed other video calling apps, thanks to its increasing adoption during the coronavirus lockdown. But its overnight success has also brought it under focus, which shows that success is not always sweet. It can also be bittersweet and comes with its own challenges.
There are a number of challenges Zoom is facing. There are privacy fears. There is the talk of the security bugs in Zoom's platform, so much so that the Indian government in its advisory last month asked government officials and departments to avoid using Zoom. There is also a perception that Zoom is close to Chinese ecosystem. Many of the allegations aimed at Zoom are baseless, but some require the company to respond.
In an exclusive conversation with India Today Tech, Zoom India head Sameer Raje talks about how the global lockdowns have led to the proliferation of Zoom and other collaboration apps, what the company is doing to make the app, say, useful for life during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, growth in India, the increasing competition in the market, its compliance with Indian government's guidelines, the end-to-end encryption, and ultimately, the "China" connection that has led to loose talk among users. Here is what Raje has to say about Zoom.
Impact of lockdown on Zoom's growth
These are not good times for most of the world. But for Zoom, it is booming time. Raje acknowledges as much. "In this in this covid-19 situation, nobody had envisaged that everybody will start working from home. And forget about working from home, even individuals will start using (Zoom) for socialising."
Even in India, there is an unprecedented surge in the adoption of video calling apps despite the country lacking robust wired internet. "You know how India is right, if something goes viral, [the] adoption [also] becomes very viral and that's what has happened, the adoption of such technologies has spiralled. It has gone beyond any expectations," Raje says. He explains how the organisations that were reluctant about adopting new technologies and mandating their workforce to be physically present at offices have been "forced to adopt this technology."
Undeterred from the rival attacks
Zoom's success has attracted attention, largely from global giants like Google, Facebook and Microsoft that have scrambled to offers something similar. But Raje believes that Zoom can deal with the increased competition.
"Well, we don't focus on whatever our competitors do, we focus on what the customers want the best," said Raje. "So, while there are a lot of players in the industry who are offering freebies, most of the customers want to pay and use Zoom."
He is confident the features provided by Zoom are unmatched. "When you click on a Zoom URL, you can, one hundred per cent, be sure that you will have a flawless meeting, you will have an impeccable voice, and with the simplicity in use. So all the organisations are even willing to pay," says Raje.
Working with govt on compliance
Indian government's advisory on using zoom cautiously did not go well with the company. But this was not the first incident in the world. Previously, the government of Taiwan had issued a ban on the use of Zoom in the country. The Federal Bureau of Investigation had also warned Americans of using Zoom for their personal purpose since the cases of "Zoom-bombing" were on an increase. Zoom had to quell all those concerns one after another.
Here in India, Zoom said it will work with the government to ensure privacy and safety to lessen the apprehension among customers. Raje tells India Today Tech that Zoom's focus is "always on to provide the right information."
While admitting that there were issues from the company's side, Raje added, "the platform is being utilised in a different manner than it is supposed to be." He says, "For example, Zoom is an enterprise platform. If you start socializing on it if you want to share those details on the social media and so on so forth. Obviously we had not anticipated that."
Raje believes the end-user behaviour pattern was also a determining factor when it came to reining in the usage of the app for personal use. "When you are going to share your details on social media, it's not to be done. You don't do it in your physical life, you don't do it in virtual life. So there have been both things to it which added fuel to the fire." According to him, the government took an educated decision to issue an advisory based on what "was prevalent in the market at that time."
Highlighting Zoom's job as a company, Raje said, "Our responsibility is to share the right information with the government, which we are doing. Our focus will be to help the government take the right decision based on the right information and then percolate that to the users of India We're very confident that the government will make the right decision because we are sure of our platform."
About the recent discoveries about the security flaws in the app, Raje said, "There have been no issues on our platform. There are vulnerabilities in any software. They [vulnerabilities] were highlighted [in Zoom], they were fixed in less than 24 hours. So we have taken appropriate steps to fix them. I'm sure the government will take the right stance."
Row over encryption not needed
There has been a lot of chatter on Zoom's allegedly weak encryption of calls. Raje calls that "misinformation." Zoom had recently said it will be introducing end-to-end encryption for video meetings after it was criticised for having only the TLS encryption so far. Meanwhile, the company introduced the AES 256-bit GCM encryption on its platform to silence the critics. Now, there is talk of E2E encryption.
"Zoom always had enterprise-grade encryption. Banks, financial institutions, largest of the large certified firms have been using Zoom," says Raje. "It is encrypted in the best of the possible format." He explains that as long as Zoom is accessed on a mobile device or a laptop within its ecosystem, the meeting is encrypted.
He believes adding the "end-to-end" phrase is disingenuous. "You need to understand that Zoom is a collaboration platform and when we say it's a collaboration platform, what you can do is you can actually pick up a phone and dial into a Zoom's service. Any person can tell you that if you're using a phone to come into the zoom cloud service that noise cannot be encrypted. It can be encrypted only after it comes into Zoom, so it cannot be said to have end-to-end encryption," said Raje.
What he implies, this limitation doesn't mean that Zoom calls are not encrypted. Raje adds, "A lot of bad people out there wanted to highlight that Zoom is not into end-to-end encryption but is it a real fact (technically yes) because if there is another format of encryption coming, then the encryption format might change but Zoom Cloud has always been encrypted."
Having said that, Zoom is trying to add another layer of security to its calls. "We have heard the feedback... All right, we acquired a company called Keybase. And now what we're going to do is we are going to allow one more layer or one more format of service, which will be end-to-end encryption but the point that should be noted is that when it is end to end encrypted, then you cannot join into the platform using a telephone," says Raje.
The China connection
Zoom was founded in 2011 as an American company dealing in video communications by Eric Yuan, who is a former Cisco Webex engineer. Although Yuan is an American, his race and ethnicity have been dragged into the equation to magnify the concerns centred around perceived surveillance by China. These fears among people escalated after Zoom was found routing some North Americans calls to its servers in China. Although, Zoom clarified that it happened because the data is relayed between data centres, wherein if the nearest data centre is busy, the calls are routed to the next available data centre with the maximum capacity. Zoom also introduced the option of choosing the data centre through which a user's calls will be routed under its paid subscriptions. But the talk persists.
For Raje, it is again a case of misinformation. Talking about the data routing row, he said, "We thought that it is based on the mistake that happened on our part. And when we were scaling up to ramp up our infrastructure, allowing more participation to counter higher traffic, some of our servers in China, which are geo-fenced unfortunately, were left open. That means some of the traffic from the world could have gone there." Then it was fixed.
Zoom's China connection
The company is also fighting a perception war due to its founder Eric Yuan's birthplace. "Eric has been an American citizen since 2007. And we are an American company. We are a NASDAQ-listed company, so we are governed by US rules and regulations. We also follow European GDPR compliance rules. That is a fact. Now if people want to use some miscommunication or want to base their opinion based on the miscommunication. I think he will continue to educate them. That's what we can do," says Raje.
In India, Zoom has its data centres in Hyderabad and Mumbai. For free users, the data is routed to the servers in the US but those with paid subscriptions and predefine settings, the data stays within the country's border. When asked about whether Zoom will comply with data localisation norms, which is yet to be passed in the parliament, for basic-tier users whose data is stored in the US currently, Raje said, "We will bring a company that is focused on India, we will comply with whatever laws and demands the Indian government has."