Zoom Is Ethically Required to Improve Privacy And Regulation Is Needed

Zoom Is Ethically Required to Improve Privacy And Regulation Is Needed
By Matthew McElhaney | May 29, 2020

Zoom is a ubiquitous video conferencing software whose popularity increased dramatically during the stay at home orders during the 2020 pandemic. Zoom built its platform on ease of use and ?frictionless communication? (Barolo, 2018), and it appears the architecture and design decisions to allow individuals to easily video conference has led to extreme privacy concerns. The internet has been filled with accounts of ?zoom bombing?-where uninvited individuals join video conferences and screen share pornography or shout racist epithets (O’Flaherty, 2020). The impact of this deplorable behavior is amplified given the increased use of zoom by grade schools across the United States during the stay at home orders related to COVID 19.

*Zoom Is Being Used for Social Distancing Court Hearings (Holmes, 2020)*

Company Value Has Skyrocketed Despite Privacy Concerns

To say the stay at home orders have been a boon to Zoom is an understatement. Zoom is publicly traded which allows us to apply near real time mark to market valuations to the company.

*Zoom Market Capitalization May 2019 to May 2020 (source: macrotrends.net)*

To give some perspective on the enterprise value of Zoom, the value of its equity at the time of writing is greater than that of Delta, American, and Southwest Airlines combined. It is also 2x that of Ford Motor Company-an iconic American institution that produces 5.5 million vehicles per year.

*Ford Market Capitalization May 2019 to May 2020. COVID 19 has moved value from many companies into a select few winners. (source: macrotrends.net)*

It?s unclear if the temporary drops in Zoom market cap in March and April could be attributed to the privacy concerns but it?s apparent that the market doesn?t link the value of the company to those concerns given the current all-time high company value. This is a signal that Zoom will not address these concerns because the market demands it, and that a different incentive is needed.

Zoom Has The Resources Needed To Change

Based on the above data Zoom certainly has the required resources to change. It would be feasible for Zoom to sell $100M of treasury stock (a mere 0.2% of its market capitalization) to apply the proceeds to improve privacy for their users. Assuming an all-in cost per employee of $300k per year, this issuance would give Zoom the resources to hire over 300 security architects, software developers, and other positions to address this issue.

Regulation Is Needed To Incentivize Change

Given that Zoom has been slow to apply the required changes even though it has the resources, and that their company valuation has increased during these privacy concerns, it?s clear that regulation should be considered in these situations to incentivize companies like Zoom to provide products with the necessary privacy controls. The United States government has been hesitant to do so in the past, likely because there is a fear of stifling innovation. The concerns are not valid given the harm done to consumers of the product because of poor privacy controls at the benefit of innovation. If laws were passed to apply extremely punitive penalties (e.g. the exact opposite of Facebook?s fine by the EU fine for being misleading during Whatsapp acquisition) to companies like Zoom for privacy and security violations, there would be far fewer children being exposed to pornography during English class. Companies respond to incentives and unless there is regulation to correct this behavior similar incidents will certainly happen again in the technology space.


Barolo, P. (2018, January 31). Zoom Launches Enhanced Product Suite to Deliver Frictionless Communications. Retrieved May 24, 2020, from https://blog.zoom.us/wordpress/2018/01/30/zoom-launches-enhanced-product-suite-to-deliver-frictionless-communications/

Holmes, A. (2020, April 18). Courts and government meetings have fallen into chaos after moving hearings to Zoom and getting swarmed with nudity and offensive remarks. Retrieved May 24, 2020, from https://www.businessinsider.com/zoom-courts-governments-struggle-to-adapt-video-tools-hearings-public-2020-4

O’Flaherty, K. (2020, March 27). Beware Zoom Users: Here’s How People Can ‘Zoom-Bomb’ Your Chat. Retrieved May 24, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/kateoflahertyuk/2020/03/27/beware-zoom-users-heres-how-people-can-zoom-bomb-your-chat/

Zoom Video Communications Market Cap 2019-2020: ZM. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2020, from https://www.macrotrends.net/stocks/charts/ZM/zoom-video-communications/market-cap

Is the health QR Code really healthy?

Is the health QR Code really healthy?
By Joanna Wang | May 29, 2020

The magical tool for a peace of mind
Imagine this scenario: You’ve read about the covid-19 outbreak on the news and learned that it is a very contagious virus. You thought about the people coughing on the subway, a coworker that was under the weather but still showed up at work and some random person that sneezed on the street but didn’t cover their month. You are worried about your own health and constantly asking “am I exposed to the virus?” “Did people near me got the virus?” The fear is real, and I have experienced it first-hand. Wouldn’t it be great if there is a tool to find out these questions and have real time update? Won’t you want the get an alert if someone you have been in close contact got diagnosed for covid? This has been done in China already. A digital QR code: a magical tool for a peace of mind.

How does the QR code work
Citizens have to fill in their personal information to obtain a QR health code on their smartphone. Citizens need to provide their name, national identity number or passport number, phone number, travel history, any Covid symptoms, any contact with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 patients in the past 14 days. After the information is verified by authorities, each user will be assigned a QR code in red (need quarantine for 14 days), amber (need quarantine for 7 days) or green (free to move). Citizens will need to scan their QR code every time they enter a public facility: restaurants, subway stations, workplaces, shopping malls and so on. Once a confirmed case is diagnosed, authorities are able to quickly backtrack where the patient has been and identify people who have been in contact with that individual. People now can feel safer from Covid, so problem solved! But is it really?

Figure 1: A hand holding a cellphone

The lingering helper
With the help of health QR code, China was able to quickly contain the outbreak and reopened the economy. However, the health QR code will not fade away. Instead, it will turn into something more advanced or even invasive: it will give the user a 0-to-100 score based on how healthy their lifestyles are, for example how much they sleep, how many steps they take, how much they smoke and drink and other unspecified metrics. Thoughtful or creepy?

The concerns
Desperate time for desperate measure, we get it. Just like most of the technology, the intension of creating health tracking QR code is good (I hope so. Although people can disagree on the intention part). The government is trying everything they can to protect people from Covid-19, but at the same time, privacy is sacrificed. The QR code collect people’s location, who they have contacted and other rather private information. Maybe under extreme circumstances like Covid-19 outbreak, people are willing to sacrifice some privacy in exchange for safety. That still doesn’t make this whole collecting citizen information thing ethical. Furthermore, the “Dividing people into colors” method leads to people getting discriminated and not to mention the false positive results that the app generate (users got flagged for Red for no obvious reasons). The health QR code feels like a step closer to a scoring system for citizens. People’s movement, lifestyles should not be the governments concern and certainly should not be used to put people into categories. If the heath QR code further evolve and start collecting people’s medical record, how do we make sure the app development company has the necessary measures to protect user data? And how will these data be used for or against the users? If the QR code is required to enter public facilities, what about people who don’t want to use the code? These are all very sensitive questions that we need to address before we turn the health QR code into a civilian spy.

Figure 2: A group of people standing around a luggage carousel at an airport