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24 Apr, 2020 20:35

Facebook targets Zoom with beefed-up video-conferencing functions – after Zoom challenged for sharing data with Facebook

Facebook targets Zoom with beefed-up video-conferencing functions – after Zoom challenged for sharing data with Facebook

In a challenge to Zoom’s dominance in the video-calling sphere, Facebook is debuting a new feature allowing such chats with up to 50 people. But wasn’t Zoom in the hot seat for sharing data with Facebook in the first place?

The social media behemoth unveiled ‘Rooms’ –its new video-conferencing feature that allows up to eight people to gather in face-to-face chat rooms– on Friday, with the promise that “within weeks” up to 50 people will be able to join the video chats. While the function is currently limited to Facebook for desktop and mobile, it is supposed to be rolled out through Instagram, WhatsApp and Portal “soon,” according to a press release on Friday. The development also includes the unprecedented option for users without a Facebook account to join chats in progress.

Facebook “accelerated” its plan for group-on-group video-chatting “in the time of COVID,” Facebook’s Head of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky told TechCrunch on Friday, explaining that, though the feature had been in development for a while, it had been stepped up because “people just want to spend more time together.” New features include ‘Donate’ buttons on live videos, the ability to patch in another user for ‘Facebook Live’ videos, and the possibility to access audio from some live videos from a telephone.

In another “first” for Facebook, no advertising or monetization is planned for Rooms, Chudnovsky told TechCrunch, which hinted that “keeping Facebook central to people’s lives” was its own reward. In that vein, Facebook Dating has apparently tried to claw back to relevance with a “virtual dating” function for housebound romantics, set to roll out in the coming months.

The Rooms feature represents a direct challenge to Zoom, which has dominated the video-conferencing market since the coronavirus pandemic forced most of the world’s internet-connected population into their homes, exploding in popularity from 10 million users in December to 300 million this month. Zoom has been troubled in recent weeks by privacy issues, with multiple lawsuits filed against the company alleging it shared data with Facebook without notifying its users, and has suffered from other security vulnerabilities, that allowed “Zoom-bombing” by trolls accessing non-password-protected meetings to flash obscene images uninvited.

Also on rt.com Zoom privacy debacle shows the danger of our reliance on Big Tech during coronavirus lockdown

While many Zoom users were dismayed to learn the platform was sharing its data with Facebook, it’s unclear how eliminating the middleman –giving would-be videoconferencers the opportunity to share their data directly with Facebook via Rooms– will be seen as an improvement. Houseparty, another lookalike that gained over 50 million users in the past month, presents another competitor to the growing field – without Facebook’s baggage. Rooms’ video-chats are not end-to-end encrypted, and “illicit” behavior can be reported to Facebook, according to The Verge. While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has claimed Rooms was designed with strong privacy controls, he’s also said that about his platform in general, a claim that has been shown to be false numerous times.

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