Skype has introduced a conference call feature that allows users to initiate or join group calls without needing to have a Skype account, or the app. The feature, called Meet Now, comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed more and more people to work from home, resulting in a surge in popularity of video conferencing platforms, especially Zoom.

Begin and join calls without having an account: Meet Now calls can be initiated and joined directly from the web without needing to have a Skype account, or its mobile or computer client. A user can generate a meeting link, and share it with other people to begin a conference call, and anyone with the link can join the call. The Meet Now link, once created, has no expiration date, and can be accessed anytime. However, initiating a Meet Now call on the web, at the moment, is only possible on Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome browsers.

Data retention: During a conference call, users have the option to record the call, share their screens, and view participants, among other things. Skype will hold call recordings for up to 30 days and media shared in the chat for “even longer”.

Zoom’s been the go to conference app, but has seen privacy issues: This development comes as video conferencing app, Zoom, claimed its user base ballooned from 10 million to 200 million in a matter of months due to lockdowns around the world, following the COVID-19 pandemic. However, amid the surge in its popularity, Zoom has seen a series of security missteps, which has resulted in it announcing a 6 month feature freeze to address the privacy and security issues that Zoom has. Here are the privacy troubles Zoom has faced in recent days:

  • On April 1, researchers discovered a vulnerability where Windows users could have their operating system’s login password stolen with a malicious link sent on chat. CEO Yuan said that this issue has been patched.
  • On April 2, the New York Times reported a feature where even anonymous participants in a call could siphon off LinkedIn data about other participants without their knowledge. Zoom later removed this feature.
  • On March 31, The Intercept reported how Zoom was misleadingly claiming that calls were end-to-end encrypted, when they were not. The company later changed the language to say that “Your client connection is encrypted”.
  • On March 31, security researcher Felix Seele discovered that Zoom’s macOS installation package was working around Apple’s requirements for installing apps by just extracting a compressed archive directly into Apple computers’ Applications folder, a tactic commonly employed by malware, and not legitimate software companies. CEO Yuan responded on Twitter and a fix was rolled out two days later.
  • On March 26, a Motherboard investigation found that Zoom was sending user data to Facebook even if users were not logged in via the social media platform, or had an account there. Zoom updated the app to remove the Facebook Software Development Kit that was causing this data leak.
  • On March 24, Consumer Reports criticised Zoom’s privacy policy, saying it left the door open for the company to sell user data. The company then tightened its privacy policy, Consumer Reports said on March 30.