I was invited to an event with my synagogue this weekend, which meant booting up the Zoom video conferencing app to join my fellow congregants for some virtual singing and celebrating. But I managed to attend the event without signing into Zoom, a feat I’m trying to keep up as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.
I downloaded Zoom both on my computer and phone in 2018, way before COVID-19 existed. It’s been a common video chat app for many companies and businesses for years since it was first released in 2013. There were 10 million Zoom users at the end of 2019 before the concept of social distancing was commonplace and 300 million users eventually jumped onto the Zoom train.
On my phone, Zoom gives three options on the opening screen: “Join a Meeting,” “Sign Up,” or “Sign In.” On desktop, it’s similar: “Join a Meeting,” “Host a Meeting,” “Sign In,” or (highlighted in a bright orange box), “Sign Up, It’s Free.” I’ve only ever joined a meeting, which is fine by me. There isn’t much allure for a free sign-up since the service works exactly the same without doing so.
The company would like you signed up and locked in with your personal information and access to your usage data and more. Digging through Zoom’s terms, you can pinpoint the type of personal data it asks from customers (with the disclaimer that it’s not limited to the posted list).
But I have maintained my Zoom anonymity by either clicking links sent over from other Zoom meeting hosts or joining a meeting with a meeting ID number and password. For my synagogue’s weekend Zoom event, I had saved the invite on my calendar along with the nine-digit ID number and password. I and copy-and-pasted those in as prompted and entered the meeting without issue. No one knows you’re Zooming without official credentials.
Even if Zoom has taken over during social distancing (it’s the most popular video chat app right now based on downloads and users), I’m determined to continue using the service without creating an account. I might be perceived as a mooch, taking advantage of others sacrificing their personal information to set up accounts and inviting me to their hosted meetings. But it’s worth it to me.
An even more extreme stance: Don’t download the app. Most Zoom meetings have call-in numbers that you can dial into from your phone to join through your phone’s audio. This method won’t let you see someone’s screen if they’re presenting or anyone’s funky Zoom backgrounds, but if you just need to hear a virtual press conference or give a quick hello at a social gathering this is the ultimate move.
I had already downloaded the app long ago, but I should be able to keep this up unless I need to host a meeting. Then I’ll have to fork over my personal information and lose my streak.
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