STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Just a few weeks ago, I'd never heard of Zoom. Then, as Americans began working from home, I heard of meetings held on Zoom. Eventually, some colleagues and I had lunch on Zoom. The video conferencing service is popular and also, we should disclose, a funder of NPR, about which we will nevertheless tell you the whole truth. The FBI is warning schools about using the software. New York's attorney general is asking questions about its security and privacy. NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond has more.
SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Like many people, Dennis Johnson is doing a lot of things he would normally do in person over Zoom. Last week, that meant defending his doctoral dissertation via computer screen to a big audience.
DENNIS JOHNSON: There's, like, over 40 people who are watching. They are my closest friends, family and my classmates and my dissertation committee.
BOND: Johnson is the first member of his family to graduate from college, let alone get a doctorate. He wanted to share the moment with them. He says he was in the middle of presenting when someone started drawing male genitalia on screen.
JOHNSON: And I'm like, whoa. And then I freeze. And everyone who's watching - the screen freezes.
BOND: It got worse. The attacker scrawled a racial slur. And all of this was being broadcast to everyone on the Zoom call. Johnson was horrified. The organizers blocked everyone's screen until they could remove the intruder from the meeting. But, he says, they weren't able to identify who had done it. Johnson was shaken, but he managed to finish his presentation. Still, what should've been a triumphant celebration was ruined.
JOHNSON: The moment they tell me, congratulations, Dr. Dennis Johnson, and it's all over and I leave the Zoom meeting, everything sets in. Like, you want to talk about depression? I couldn't even, like, communicate. I had to just walk out my house and just walk because I didn't want to talk or see anybody.
BOND: Johnson fell victim to a new form of harassment known as Zoombombing. Intruders hijack video calls and post pornography and hate speech. They've disrupted an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in New York, a Texas Sunday school, online classes at the University of Southern California. Here's Mayor David Anderson of Kalamazoo, Mich., after a city meeting was attacked.
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DAVID ANDERSON: If we're going to sit here as a hundred people take advantage of this opportunity to anonymously, you know, spew some venom out there, I'm not going to be comfortable with that.
BOND: With schools closed and millions of people working from home, Zoom is exploding. Two hundred million people used the app on a daily basis in March, up from just 10 million in December. And Zoombombing is not the only problem the company is grappling with as it adjusts to its new popularity.
PATRICK WARDLE: Things you just would like to have in a chat and video application - strong encryption, strong privacy controls, strong security - just seem to be completely missing.
BOND: Patrick Wardle is a security researcher. He and others have turned up flaws in Zoom's software that could let hackers spy through the computer's webcam or microphone. There are also concerns about privacy. The website Motherboard found Zoom was sharing data with Facebook, even on people who aren't Facebook users. The company says that was a mistake. But it's now facing a class-action lawsuit. Wardle says Zoom may be easy to use, but he's wary of its track record.
WARDLE: I really believe that it's just this product was designed to prioritize things other than privacy and security.
BOND: Zoom CEO Eric Yuan wrote a blog post this week apologizing for falling short. He says the company is freezing work on new features to focus on fixing its privacy and security problems.
Shannon Bond, NPR News, San Francisco.
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