This page discusses BR’s reasons for choosing the Zoom platform. Please see our Education Policy for details on how we implement Zoom.
As many of you are aware, Black Rose has chosen to use Zoom for our online classes. Zoom has gotten some bad press lately due to concerns over how they handle privacy, and many in the community have wondered why BR made this choice and what, if anything, we are doing to allay the privacy concerns.
Why Zoom instead of another commercial platform
BR chose to use Zoom as our platform after conducting considerable market research, conducting and attending meetings with various commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) platforms. Products we investigated included Google Meet, GoToMeeting, WebEx, and OnlyFans. We tested platforms based on their connection stability, ease of use for attendees and hosts, in-meeting privacy options, and accessibility integrations. By all metrics, Zoom proved to be the best.
- Provides the most stable connection of any COTS platform, with minimal loss of audio quality and few dropped connections even for large sessions
- Is among the easier platforms to use, supported across a wide range of devices including in-browser operation.
- Provides flexibility for hosts, including a “Raise Hand” feature with multiple signals (including yes, no, go slower, go faster). Hosts can easily mute all microphones, disable all cameras, and monitor the waiting room in real time while moderating the meeting.
- Allows for easy steps to mask attendees’ identity, such as changing display names, on a per-meeting basis. Google Meet, for instance, requires the same display name across all Google products for a given account. Hosts are able to change display names from the waiting room, if necessary.
- Provides support for features such as whiteboards and polls, and permits both live captioning and post-event transcription for hearing-impaired attendees.
Zoom privacy concerns
Zoom’s privacy issues boil down to the following things.
- Uninvited attendees may gain access to the session and surreptitiously record it
- An unauthorized person may be able to surreptitiously record the session without entering it
- An unauthorized person may be able to access a cloud-stored recording after the fact
- The Zoom client is not easy to uninstall.
How BR Mitigates Risks
To protect against these possibilities, BR strictly requires all attendees to mute their microphones and shut off their cameras. This is done administratively; the user is not given a choice. Our moderators also monitor the waiting room and warn attendees who appear to have legal names visible to change their display names. Furthermore, while we do record the classes so ticket holders can watch afterwards for a short time, we record only the presentation portion of the class. We do not record the question-and-answer portion; no attendees’ faces or voices are ever included in our recordings.
Before we record a class, we require a positive affirmation from all attendees using the Zoom “Raise Hand” feature. Furthermore, Zoom provides an audible warning when the recording is about to start, and once recording starts, users are prompted with a dialog box where they must either agree to the recording or leave the session. These are Zoom features; BR has no control over them. During recording, there is a prominent on-screen icon. Finally, when we stop the recording for the Q&A portion of the class, Zoom provides another audible announcement when recording has stopped.
As for the point about the Zoom client being difficult to uninstall, our only recommendation is to use the Zoom browser client. This installs no software on your computer.
One option would be to simply not attend the Zoom class, and watch the recording while it remains available (one week following the class).
- BR administratively mutes attendees’ microphones and turns off attendees’ cameras.
- BR individually warns attendees not to display legal names.
- BR recommends against installing the Zoom stand-alone client. Use the in-browser version instead.
- BR requires positive affirmation from attendees before we will record.
- Zoom provides audible and visible warnings when recording has begun and requires positive affirmation from attendees.
- Zoom provides visible warnings when recordings are in progress.
- Zoom provides audible announcements when recording has stopped.
Why Zoom instead of a dedicated kink solution
Some kink organizations have decided to develop or use dedicated platforms, including DatingKinky or a kink-dedicated Jitsi instance. These platforms are developed for kinksters, by kinksters, and people have wondered why BR did not go with one of these solutions. While community-developed, open-source platforms have their appeal, BR believes this apparent appeal is deceptive. There are advantages with a commodity-off-the-shelf commercial product. BR has, indeed, supported use of COTS products for years; our membership system uses NeonCRM, our news mailing list uses MailChimp, and we use Slack for staff communications. Not to mention, we use lawyers, insurance, and accountants.
Dedicated companies have major advantages over small groups working in their spare time. Zoom Video Communications is a major company with 2500 employees and half a billion dollars in revenue, and it has a dedicated security department with a sizable budget. Zoom has an agility to address major security vulnerabilities in ways a smaller outfit, staffed by one or a few people who may not even be full-time employees, does not.
The sheer size of Zoom’s market makes it subject to heightened scrutiny in a way a smaller operation would not. Zoom has, indeed, had trouble with the Federal Trade Commission because of some elastic interpretation of “end-to-end encryption.” A smaller operation may have more easily avoided government scrutiny and we may have continued our lives blissfully unaware of what they were doing.
Zoom also has major clients, who have their own IT budgets, know what they’re doing when it comes to Internet privacy, and will not abide malicious activity. BR does not know who Zoom’s clients are, but a company with so much revenue surely has some important ones. Zoom can be stupid and careless, and their clients certainly put their feet to the fire. How do you think the FTC got involved? However, Zoom cannot cross those clients by spying on them deliberately, because that would be a very large lawsuit.
Finally, a large company like Zoom simply has no interest in maliciously invading the privacy of any individual users to blackmail them. A single employee would be discovered and fired, while it is not worth the time for the company to pursue such a strategy. Even if they did, all it would take is for one well-placed kinkster with lots of money and little care for their own public image to be victimized. The resulting news scandal and very public backlash would be severe and Zoom’s clients, the major corporate ones, would likely flee for other platforms. A smaller operation, such as one dedicated to the kink community, might survive such an incident by escaping such public scrutiny. Zoom likely would not.
Zoom’s software is not open source, of course, and for many people this is a problem. However, the vast majority of users do not have the skill or energy necessary to vet every line of code in an open-source project. We place our trust in the open-source developers just as much as we do in commercial software developers.
In short, Zoom’s prominence provides some degree of protection for smaller clients such as BR, because our privacy interests as well as those of our attendees align closely with the interests of Zoom’s major corporate clients. By protecting themselves, those clients also protect us. Smaller operations can make mistakes through accident, hubris, or maliciousness just as much as Zoom can, and Zoom has much more incentive to fix any of these mistakes.
Zoom is a large company. It has an international reputation to preserve. It has a large budget and considerable staff to devote to fixing problems. Dedicated kink developers do not have these things.
Doing kink online requires the use of online services. At some point, we must choose to trust these services. If you are concerned about Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, or Microsoft knowing you are kinky, there are so many precautions you should already have been taking that avoiding Zoom should be a minor issue for you. If you are not taking these precautions already, the information is already out there. Zoom has no more interest in blackmailing you than any of the others.