AMERICAN COMPANY Zoom Video Communications, which provides a platform for video meetings, webinars and chatting across devices, has grown globally from 1 crore daily meeting participants in December 2019 to 30 crore in April 2020. In India, entities that were earlier hesitant to use digital collaboration tools for day-to-day activities started using it due to the lockdown. Its increased usage in India also saw the ministry of home affairs (MHA) advising users of the security risks. Sameer Raje, the company’s India head, spoke to THE WEEK about the immense response and the security reinforcements. Excerpts:
Q/ Zoom has become the top collaborative platform in India. What kind of traction have you seen since the lockdown was enforced?
A/ Let me first make it clear that Zoom is not just a video calling app as popularly perceived. It is a complete unified communication and collaboration platform. What people are using is an app, which is just one component of it. The actual platform has a whole gamut of services. During the current Covid-19 lockdown in India, we saw an increase in use of the platform more by individuals for social purposes or small-time businesspersons working from home. People have started using it for hosting parties, family get-togethers and even to conduct weddings.
On the other hand, many large enterprises and corporate setups increasingly used it as their employees are working from home. They were looking for business continuity solutions. Since schools are shut, teachers are using our platform to train kids. More than a lakh schools are using our platform across more than 20 countries, including India. Additionally, a lot of state and Central government departments are using our platform, too.
Q/ Seeing the rise in usage, the MHA had warned against the use of Zoom.
A/ It was quite unfortunate. There was a lot of misinformation. If you look at it carefully, there is a 600 per cent rise in cybercrime today in the world. Every person who is weighing in on the internet today is exposed to this threat of cyber war. This percentage is not a small thing. Let me make it clear that the Zoom platform is absolutely secure. It has never been exposed. Of late, unfortunately, there were new kinds of users who were using Zoom in a very unsecured way.
Q/ What were the issues you faced with the many new users?
A/ We never expected it to be used as a platform for legal weddings or even to have evening drinking parties together. When people started using the platform for such reasons, they started sharing the details on social media and that became dangerous. When using our platform or any other platform, even internet banking or even your email, please be sure that you have a password and not a generic one. People started using it, taking screenshots and sharing and posting the details [on the internet], hence getting bombed by unwanted intrusions. That was the problem. That is when the advisory came out.
Q/ How have you tried to address those concerns?
A/ We will not deny there were certain mistakes from our end as well. We rectified those mistakes within 24 hours. We are working with the government to explain to them the right things about the platform. We are also communicating with users the steps necessary to fix any issues. Since cybercrimes have increased, one can only imagine the new threats coming in on a daily basis. So, we always have to be on our toes. We have to be one step ahead of others. Zoom recently launched the 5.0 version that has AES 256-bit GCM encryption. Meeting hosts can report a user who is misusing the platform. An encryption shield appears in the upper left corner of a meeting window, indicating a secure, encrypted meeting. There are many more security features and we have [initiated] a lot of guidance surveys [for users].
Q/ Did you lose any customers in India due to the home ministry’s advisory?
A/ When most large corporates and enterprises sign up, they do their own due diligence. They are already well versed with technology. So, while they did have questions, they took the right steps and some of them came back. They had absolute confidence in our services. As far as individual users are concerned, there were a lot of questions. When we started addressing them, the right information went out and they accepted us.
I have been working more than 18 hours a day for the last 45-plus days. Our current focus has also been to help women, health care workers, senior citizens and others stay connected.
Q/ You face stiff competition in the country from many indigenous video apps and MNC players. How do you score over others?
A/ Many of our competitors are saying that they are building Zoom competitors. That is an endorsement for us. But one of our strong USPs is that the Zoom platform is capable of running efficiently even on very low bandwidth. One can have a conversation even when there is a significant packet loss. We also have the capability to have around 1,000 participants on a video panel. Other players don’t have that.
Q/ Is your platform free? What is your business model? Is India a high growth market for you?
A/ No, it is not free. A lot of it [on the platform] is a subscription-based model. For individuals, it is just a 40-minute free version. We have a host of services beyond that, which are part of our platform and those are what enterprises use. Yes, India is one of the largest [markets]. By sheer size, probably [only] US and Japan would be ahead, but India would be not very far behind.