apps Technology

Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger Rooms, Google Duo: which video-calling app do I use?

The ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns and isolations around the world have observed a battle royale of video-conferencing apps. We help you decide which one is right for you

The COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines across India has observed a major flip in our daily routines, the most noticeable being working from home in order to flatten the curve. So to keep up with social interactions, video-conferencing apps have become a necessity. Not all of these apps’ journeys have been a fruitful one, particularly owing to security worries or technical glitches.

Here is our breakdown of trending video-chat apps, their purpose, their security features, and, of course, how to access them:

Zoom

Favoured by schools, corporates and individuals, Zoom’s number of daily meeting participants has grown to 300 million. On April 29, Zoom 5.0 rolled out globally. Eric Yuan founded Zoom in 2011, and launched its software in 2013.

Prominent features include a screen-share option for presentations. Zoom’s bells and whistles come in the form of the virtual background feature in that users can access a photo from their personal gallery and set that as their own meeting background. This feature works best with a green screen and uniform lighting, to allow Zoom to detect the difference between you and your background. Plus, there’s a retouch filter available.

An example of a user in Zoom’s meeting room

An example of a user in Zoom’s meeting room   | Photo Credit: Zoom Media Kit , Rawpixel for Getty Images/iStockphoto

Security: As a response to the five lakh accounts leaked to the Dark Web, Zoom 5.0 was released with support for AES 256-bit GCM encryption, which claims to provide added protection for meeting data and greater resistance to tampering.

Additionally, if the host leaves, they can now easily select a new host and have the confidence that the right person is left with host privileges. In terms of data recording, admins and meeting hosts can set expirations on their cloud recordings and can disable the sharing of their recordings.

The new version also has a new encryption shield in the upper left of a user’s Zoom Meeting window, indicating a secure, encrypted meeting. After May 30, the shield will be green for all users, denoting enhanced GCM encryption.

Devices and access: Zoom’s Basic plan allows up to 100 participants at a 40-minute time restriction, but unlimited one-on-one meeting time. There are numerous paid plans for different institutes, such as business, education, developers and telehealth. Zoom Webinar has been quite popular during lockdown while the under-discussed Zoom Phone is the platform’s cloud solution.

Houseparty

Founded in 2016 by Sima Sistani and Ben Rubin and then purchased by Epic Games in 2019, Houseparty is ‘face-to-face social network’ which has been popular for its recreational USP and for the simple way a host can kick off a virtual party through the app.

Users can also play virtual games within their group, such as Heads Up!, Trivia, Quick Draw, and Chips and Guac!. One can also ‘sneak’ into a Houseparty, without alerting their contacts.

The Chrome interface for Houseparty

The Chrome interface for Houseparty   | Photo Credit: Houseparty

Security: According to the developers, “Houseparty is secure. There have been no data breaches and no exposure of customer data or third-party accounts.” Users must remember to ‘lock’ their parties to prevent virtual gate-crashing from uninvited users. The minimum age for Houseparty users is 13 years, but it is advised that parents keep an eye on their teenagers’ activities on the app if access is allowed.

Devices and access: Available on iOS, Android, Mac, PC, and as a Google Chrome extension. Houseparty allows unlimited participants and is free to download, with no in-app paid purchases.

WhatsApp

Having this app is a no-brainer for anyone whose phone has data capabilities. WhatsApp, initially released in May 2009, has seen major overhauls through its years, its biggest being that in 2014, it was acquired by Facebook.

To keep up with the competitive market of video-chat apps, WhatsApp finally doubled the number of participants users can have on a WhatsApp video or voice call from 4 to 8 people at a time. According to an April 28 blog post by WhatsApp, “Over the last month, people on average are spending over 15 billion minutes talking each day on WhatsApp calls, well above a typical day before the pandemic.”

WhatsApp’s 8-caller interface

WhatsApp’s 8-caller interface   | Photo Credit: WhatsApp

Devices and access: WhatsApp’s video chatting facility is available on iOS and Android, and on Portal by Facebook (not available in Indian markets).

Security: WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption ensures that only you and the person you’re communicating with can see what is sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp.

Facebook Messenger Rooms

While Facebook does own WhatsApp, the social media platform has launched its own video-conferencing app: Facebook Messenger Rooms. According to an April 24 blog post by Facebook, “ Between WhatsApp and Messenger, more than 700 million accounts participate in calls every day. In many countries, video calling on Messenger and WhatsApp more than doubled, and views of Facebook Live and Instagram Live videos increased significantly in March.”

Creating a meeting room through the app is simple and, soon, up to 50 participants can be in one meeting room without any time limit.

The desktop interface of Facebook Messenger Rooms

The desktop interface of Facebook Messenger Rooms   | Photo Credit: Facebook

Security: Not everyone is a fan of Facebook’s idea of privacy. “While there are significant challenges to providing end-to-end encryption for video calling with large groups of people,” explains a Messenger Rooms privacy piece written by Erin Egan, Chief Privacy Officer, Policy, “we’re actively working toward this for Messenger and Rooms.”

The post also states, “Regardless of whether you use Rooms through your Facebook account or join as a guest, we don’t watch or listen to your audio or video calls... We also worked with our security team to make Rooms links difficult for hackers to guess. Our room links have a string of random characters and digits at the end, with numbers and letters in different cases. This makes it challenging for hackers to guess the exact combination of characters, and a new link is generated every time you create a room.”

At the moment, rooms can be locked or unlocked once a call begins. If a room is locked, no one else can join, except a Group admin for rooms created through a Group.

Devices and access: The new feature allows non-Facebook users to join video calls using a link sent by the chat room creator. Plus, Facebook users can start a video chat room and share it on their News Feed, Group or Events. If the discussion is open, people can join; if closed, a link to the room will give them access.

Google Duo

Unlike Hangouts where text messages can be sent, Google Duo is only for video calls and has recently upped its group-calling limit to 12. The platform was first announced at Google developer conference in 2016 and became popular for its simple methodology in experiencing high-quality video calls.

Users can also add effects to personalise Duo calls or apply a portrait filter to make themselves look sharper against the background with Effects and Portrait Mode.

A mobile device’s and a laptop’s interfaces with Google Duo

A mobile device’s and a laptop’s interfaces with Google Duo   | Photo Credit: Google

Security: Duo uses end-to-end encryption to keep video calls private; a call’s data (its audio and video) is encrypted from your device to your contact’s device. The encrypted audio and video can only be decoded with a shared secret key. Also, Duo doesn’t store your facial data or send it to Google servers.

Devices and access: Available through Android phones, iPhones, tablets, computers, and Smart Displays like the Google Nest Hub Max (not available in Indian markets).

Skype

Microsoft-owned Skype revealed on April 27 that the number of people using Microsoft’s Skype video calling system has surged by 70% in a month to 40 million people presently. Additionally, Skype-to-Skype calling minutes jumped 220% from a month earlier.

Founded in 2003 by a group of Scandinavian developers, Skype was acquired by Microsoft in 2011, having quickly become a favourite during a time video-calling applications were not saturating the global tech market.

Currently, Skype’s free plan allows 50 callers on a group call. Users can blur their backgrounds on a video call and also engage in screen-sharing for presentations and demos. Plus, Skype also has a real-time translation tool for video calls.

Skype’s interface on a laptop

Skype’s interface on a laptop   | Photo Credit: Skype

Security: Skype's encryption is inherent in the Skype Protocol and is transparent to callers. Skype is not considered to be a secure VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) system as the calls made over the network do not make use of end-to-end encryption

Devices and access: Available across all major device platforms and major browsers, voice assistants like Alexa, and on Xbox consoles.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is the hub for communication across Microsoft 365 suite, and we would say this is more corporate-oriented than the others listed here. Over the ongoing lockdowns, Teams has seen considerable usage surges. Last month, Microsoft recorded 44 million daily users and on April 29, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella revealed that Teams usage has increased to more than 75 million daily active users, and that Microsoft saw 200 million meeting participants in a single day this month.

Users can host 1080p calls with up to 250 members, which includes the ability to share screens and record calls. Users can also meet or collaborate on-the-go using Microsoft Teams apps for smartphones and tablets.

Teams also has a Live Events feature, where up to 10,000 people can join as an audience member with a four-hour time limit for the event. In late April, Teams will be upping the audience member limit to 20,000 with a 16-hour time limit.

An example of video calling through Microsoft Teams

An example of video calling through Microsoft Teams   | Photo Credit: Microsoft

Security: According to Microsoft, users’ data is protected from malware in attachments, accidental sharing via chat or files, and suspicious user activity. Information is secure with encryption, Multi-Factor Authentication, and device management.

All recordings of meetings are accompanied by a notice that a recording is taking place. The notice also links to the privacy notice for online participants, and the meeting organizer controls which attendees have permission to record.

Also, channel owners can moderate a channel conversation and control who is and isn’t allowed to share content in channel conversations. This helps ensure only appropriate content is viewed by others.

Devices and access: Anyone with a Microsoft 365 account can access Microsoft Teams, available on iOS and Android, as well as Windows desktop app.

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Printable version | Jun 2, 2020 9:22:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/comparison-of-video-calling-apps-zoom-microsoft-teams-whatsapp-skype-houseparty-google-duo-facebook-messenger-rooms/article31471211.ece

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