Thanks to Covid-19, we all began spending more time in video conferences for work, school, social events, and more than ever before. For Zoom, this was a gold mine.
Today, the company’s eponymous video service has a market share of over 55%. But, then Zoom puts its foot into a privacy hornet nest by announcing it had the right to use your video, audio, and chat data for its artificial intelligence (AI) programs. Zoom backed up, but many businesses are now looking for more privacy-safe alternatives. Here are the best of them.
1. Jitsi Meet: Open-source video conferencing
It comes with all the usual video-conferencing features. It also includes end-to-end encryption support, desktop and presentation sharing, and integration of Google, Slack, and Microsoft services.
Its parent company, 8×8 offers X2, an all-in-one voice, video, and chat service, which includes Jitsi Meet’s functionality. It will also happily run Jitsi-as-a-Service for you. This starts with a free tier for 25 users and runs up to 3,000 monthly active users for $999 a month. You can, of course, get a contract for even larger groups if you need one.
It’s easiest to run Jitsi Meet on a Debian or Ubuntu Linux server. It’s not terribly hard to set up, but I recommend that only experienced Linux administrators deploy it. You can also get a feel for the no-frills Jitsi Meet by using the free service before getting your hands dirty with it.
If privacy is your top priority and you know your way around Linux, Jitsi is the video conferencing program you want.
2. Google Meet: Seamless integration with Google ecosystem
Google Meet stands out, as you’d expect, for its seamless integration with Google’s other apps. A Meet link is generated automatically when you create a meeting in Google Calendar. During a call, files from Google Drive can be shared in chat without leaving the call.
That’s all great, but generally, Google has a bad reputation for privacy. Google Meet is different.
Google Meet doesn’t even use your content for advertising. Google claims that your privacy is its priority with Meet and its cloud services. Specifically, your Meet data is encrypted in transit, and your recordings stored in Google Drive are encrypted at rest by default. Nor does Google store video, audio, or chat data unless a meeting participant starts a Meet recording.
Make no mistake: Google will scrap every bit of your public data it can find, but it treats your Meet data as private. As Google states, “We don’t use information in apps where you primarily store personal content—including Meet—for advertising purposes, period.”
That said, Google processes your content for some services, such as spam filtering and live captioning. For live captions, audio data is temporarily sent to a Google transcription server but not linked to user identifiers or permanently stored.
Anyone with a Google account can use Google Meet for free. You’re limited to 100 attendees for hour-long meetings, which is more than enough for many people. Beyond that, if you’re a serious user, you’ll want a Google Workplace account. For Meet, these come with up to 24-hour meetings and start at $6 a month for meetings with up to 100 participants with 30 GBs of storage.
3. Microsoft Teams: More than just video conferencing
Microsoft Teams is not just a video-conferencing platform; it’s a comprehensive collaboration tool. Deeply integrated with the Microsoft 365 suite, Teams is a hub where work gets done.
Anyone can sign up for the free version of Microsoft Teams using a personal email address; that tier supports up to 300 meeting participants, with guest access, one-on-one and group video and audio calls, shared files (2GB per user and 10GB per team), screen sharing, and document collaboration using online Office web apps. Of course, Teams delivers its full video conferencing goodness if your company runs on a Business or Enterprise version of Microsoft 365.
Microsoft Teams retains your data for the minimum time needed to deliver the service. That typically means that Microsoft keeps personal data until the user stops using Microsoft Teams, or until the user deletes personal data. It will take up to 30 days for Microsoft to delete your data.
Mind you, Microsoft has integrated AI with Teams. So, if you use “Intelligent recap,” it will keep and use your meeting data. Specifically, that includes the meeting recording, attendance report, and the names of the invitees. Of course, that can be very handy, but it also means, as Microsoft warns, “enabling of this bot for any user working with a given company can enable the bot for capturing data and risking the organization data.”
In short, if you use this tool, you can kiss your privacy goodbye.
4. Zoho Meeting: The browser-based contender
While not as feature-rich as some competitors, it has all the essentials for productive remote meetings. It also offers easy screen sharing and, for the paid plans, remote system access and troubleshooting for your attendees who can’t get their systems to cooperate with their cameras and microphones. That shouldn’t happen too often since Zoho Meeting only needs a web browser for you to use all its features.
As for pricing, like the others, Zoho has a generous free entry level for hour-long meetings of up to 100 attendees for a maximum of an hour. Its Standard plan offers up to 250 attendees and day-long meetings for $10 per host per month, and other features such as meeting recordings. The Professional plan costs $15 per monthly host for all of Standard’s features and others, including recording transcripts.
Making the right call
If privacy is your top concern, you want to run Jitsi on your own hardware. If that sounds like too much work, you’ll want a Jitsi provider like X2 or a hosting/cloud service that supports it, such as Unispace, WebHostingZone, or OwnCube.
If you’d rather have a conventional Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Zoho is a good choice. If you’re already locked into the Microsoft or Google ecosystem, you can stick with them.
Zoom? The service is good, but its privacy policies remain questionable. If that’s a big concern for you — and if it should be — it’s time to look elsewhere.