Virtual Workshops on Digital Privacy and Security for Video Conferencing

At Consumer Reports we’ve been busy reporting on the video conferencing tools you’re using, so we can hold companies accountable to protecting your privacy and security. And we’ve experienced some success. After the reporting of many organizations, including Consumer Reports, we’ve seen Zoom make timely privacy improvements for consumers. While I can empathize with Zoom quickly turning a business model that was supposed to be direct to businesses into one direct for consumers, they have a lot of work to do to ensure their platform is safe for consumers.

And while we need to hold organizations accountable, individuals also have a role in learning about platforms and how to protect themselves while using them. At Consumer Reports, we’ve been testing a model I like to call “Virtual Workshops.” It’s where we take our digital privacy curriculum and teach it virtually for our community. Having ran virtual workshops on password managers and phishing in the past, we decided to focus on video conferencing tools for our most recent workshop — you can view the recording of the workshop here.

With almost 1400 live participants and 4000 views afterwards, we found ourselves having to consider new ways of how an audience this size can be engaged in an issue as important or nuanced as digital privacy. What emerged was a list for how to facilitate online learning that put the viewers safety and participation at the forefront.

Here’s a few examples of how we modeled this:

  • One of the first things we did was make users aware we were recording. We asked for consent to record and share the workshops so others could watch it afterwards.
  • Given that the chat is shared with the recording, we informed participants that they can protect their privacy by changing their screen name which is a handy Zoom feature.
  • We outlined clear instructions in the ground rules on what we considered inappropriate behavior and actions we would take if we saw any.
  • We leveled up our use of features in Zoom. We had four anonymous poll questions, a Q/A option with 70+ questions that included an up-voting function, and a rolling chat.
  • With a large attendee size, we disabled video and audio for participants to maintain control over the sound and visuals, but we encouraged participants to leverage the features we were using elsewhere.
  • We asked our team to help. Normally we have two people hosting and a person managing production, but in this workshop we asked other team members to manage questions and enable closed captioning.
  • One of the most important steps, we sent the recording to participants soon afterwards and included top links from the chat so they can review instructions and further readings at their own pace.

What we saw afterwards, was attendees championing actions and conversations related to privacy in other calls. For one participant, they saw a zoombomber in their next call and immediately shared how their synagogue was handling the procedure. You can read the whole story and see recommendations specific to Zoomin this Consumer Reports article.

And since many people are focused on Zoom, with over 50% of our attendees indicating it was their favourite video conferencing tool, I wanted to share some of the things we did to protect the privacy of attendees. As hosts of a Zoom call, you get extra privileges and you can use these privileges to add protection to your calls.

Before starting the call, we were sure to change our settings to:

  • Disable screen sharing for all participants. Zoombombers and those sharing graphic content have excelled by sharing their own screen. Only allow hosts to share their screen unless you are meeting in a small and trusted group.
  • Do not enable file transfer sharing from participants. Participants can share links with malware or other viruses on it.
  • Disable far end camera control. Unless you have AV support, you don’t want a participant taking control of the host camera.
  • Do not allow removed participants to rejoin. Make sure this option is not selected. Assume that if you have removed a participant then you do not want them to rejoin.
  • Turn on the setting that allows participants to rename themselves. Having a pseudonym protects people if the chat is shared or if someone is taking photos/recording.
  • Enable the waiting room for all participants. This makes sure that you are leading the conversation from the beginning.
  • Allow users to join from browser link. For security purposes, some individuals have chosen not to download the Zoom app but are still able to join via a browser.
  • Use passwords for meetings. Passwords give your meetings an added level of security to keep out intruders.
  • Generate unique meeting IDs. Don’t send your personal ID as this will let others access your meeting room after the specified call.

Interested in learning more? The next Digital Privacy Virtual Workshop will focus on Zoom Security and take place on April 28th at 1pm ET and April 30th at 1pm ET. You can sign up to attend the workshop here.

These lists can seem long and while there are many things to consider when using video conferencing platforms, a conscious behavior can promote digital safety across our online presence. After all, not even a pandemic can slow down the trolls or threats to our digital security.

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