Video chat services Houseparty and Zoom, which have gained unprecedented popularity amid lockdowns across the world due to the covid-19 outbreak, are under scrutiny for being lax about user privacy. Security researchers and users have pointed out various ways in which the two apps may have violated privacy.
While Zoom is a video conferencing app, usually used for official meetings, etc., Houseparty is a service that allows users to chat with their friend groups via live video.
Houseparty’s woes began when users complained that the app enabled attempted hacks on their email, Uber, Spotify, online banking and other accounts. However, experts noted that there was no proof of the same, and the app company announced a million dollar reward for who could prove that the allegations were part of a smear campaign.
In case of Zoom, a Motherboard analysis revealed that the app sends data to social networking website Facebook even if a user doesn’t have an account on it. In fact, a user has filed a suit against the company, alleging that the app “collects information of its users and discloses, without adequate notice or authorisation, this personal information to third parties, including Facebook, invading the privacy of millions of users".
Motherboard found that when a user opens Zoom, the app shares details about its users’ devices - the time zone they are in, device model, the city they are in, the phone carrier they are using and a “unique advertiser identifier" that can be used for targeted advertising.
Zoom and Houseparty have gained a huge number of users due to the stay-at-home lockdowns imposed by governments worldwide. Zoom has reportedly amassed more users in the first two months of 2020 than it did in all of 2019. Houseparty saw 651,694 daily downloads on 25 March, a manifold increase from 24,795 daily on 15 February.