Asking if you’ve heard about Zoom is about like asking if you’ve heard about any recent pandemics. Zoom has become popular because of its cross-platform simplicity. You can be reasonably assured anyone with a computing device of some kind can use Zoom, and attendees don’t have to make an account to join a meeting. That’s both helpful and terrifying.
I’ve helped people with some unusual troubleshooting and Zoom questions. There are five things worth knowing.
1. Zoom security is lackluster at best and negligent at worst. Without getting too technical, Zoom’s security standards have proven to be minimal and possibly misleading.
Back in July 2019, Zoom’s installation process was quietly installing a web server on Macs. To put that in perspective, that’s like inviting me into your house for tea and while I’m there I put in a new front door, without locks, and leave, and somehow you don’t notice.
That was fixed, forcibly, by Apple issuing a rare remote security fix that removed it. For perspective, that’s like you having my front door analogy fixed by calling the Army Corps of Engineers.
Zoom’s iOS and Android apps have been found to send data about your device, without your knowledge, to Facebook. A post from Harvard argues Zoom doesn’t need ad revenue and they make plenty of money. Yet what they’re doing is saying, “We expose your virtual necks to data vampires who can do what they will with it.”.
Zoom has made efforts to improve these and other vulnerabilities, but their responses have tended toward calling them “features” and not “bugs”.
It’s also become increasingly suspect that Zoom maintains a workforce of 700+ in China and hosts servers there that may store your recordings or chats. If you want security in your calls, even using a standard telephone call is probably better. Using Apple’s Facetime or Google’s Duo video calling services is also much better because they are encrypted connections across the entire chat line. Zoom’s encryption has also been found not to be as advertised, and is not “end to end encrypted”. For perspective, this is like me sending you a letter in the mail, but someone could open, read, and re-seal the envelope before it gets to your mailbox.
A new version of Zoom promises to fix this, but past security researchers have found past promises lacking.
2. If you always struggle to call in, log in, or otherwise join a meeting, start from the device itself.
Zoom meeting IDs and dial-in numbers have passwords that, all together, add up to a bunch of random numbers and characters. They’re easy to mistype, mistap, or gloss over. It’s easier to start from the device you’re going to do the meeting on.
99% of the time someone has sent you an email or calendar invite with the Zoom info. Instead of tapping the phone number on your phone while reading it off your laptop, open the email on your phone and tap the number. Or, start from your laptop and click the link to join. More info on joining is here: https://testersupport.usertesting.com/hc/en-us/articles/115003711252-FAQ-Zoom-Basics-and-Troubleshooting#5
3. You’ll look better if you use a better camera, lighting, and toggle the “improve my appearance mode”.
Let’s get to the part you want to know first: there’s a magic toggle in all Zoom client’s settings to “Touch up my appearance”. This toggle blurs the image just a bit. It’s the same “touch up” technology your high school photos offered to clean up your skin. More on that here: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/115002595343-Touch-Up-My-Appearance
Outside of that, you’ll look better if you use just about any modern phone or tablet device, too. Laptops almost universally have awful cameras. To be a good camera lenses need space to move a lot of glass. Laptop lids are hostile places for cameras because they’re so thin. Even modern $1000+ laptops have cameras that look about as bad as ten years ago. iPads and phones are much thicker than a laptop lid, and have way better cameras as a result.
You can improve your lighting by, as much as possible, positioning yourself with a window in front of you, too. Avoid windows behind you. This will keep the cameras from blowing out “extra white”. If you can’t re-arrange your home office (I can’t because of the position of power outlets in the room), consider placing dark curtains or even a big piece of cardboard from an Amazon delivery behind the blinds or curtains to block out a portion of light temporarily.
4. If your audio isn’t working, check your headphones.
Among calls I’ve been on, audio has always been trickiest for people. In every case, the culprit is a headphone or speaker connection.
If you’re using wireless headphones like AirPods or Buds, make sure they’re connected to the device you’re using for the call. You might be on the call with your iPad, but headphones tend to default to their primary phone connection first. Don’t forget to switch their connection.
If you’re using a laptop, make sure any external speakers or wired headphones with separate volume controls are turned up.
Another riddle could be when you join the meeting, make sure you select “Internet Audio”. This will use audio in and out on the device you’re using. If you select “Phone audio” when joining in, you’ll use your laptop or tablet’s video, but it expects you to make a telephone call separately via a separate device and will nix your audio.
For PC users with Norton, Kaspersky, or other virus and security software, many of these programs will retain control of your cameras and microphones in the name of security. You may need to authorize Zoom as a trusted application to enable it to access your camera or microphone. Details here: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/115004144906-Allow-Camera-and-Microphone-Access-in-Kaspersky
5. How do people change their names and backgrounds? How do I get to chat or see people?
In most of the Zoom clients on devices larger than a phone, you can change your name by selecting “Participants” in the top right and then select your name, then “Change name”.
You can change your background in “Room Management” settings. Details here: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/204674889-Zoom-Rooms-Customized-Background. This works best when you are well-lit and have a neatly defined chair and clothes. Like a weather reporter in front of a green screen, contrast helps it appear more seamless.
Lastly, the “Chat” function allows you to send text messages to everyone or individual people in the room. Select the “…” in the top right of most Zoom client windows and select “Chat”.
All of these features can be done before or during any active Zoom call.