Zoom and Houseparty: this is how the video chatting apps work - but are they safe to use?

This is how video chatting apps Zoom and Houseparty compare (Photo: Houseparty)This is how video chatting apps Zoom and Houseparty compare (Photo: Houseparty)
This is how video chatting apps Zoom and Houseparty compare (Photo: Houseparty) | Other 3rd Party
With the majority of the country still getting used to spending their free time exclusively indoors, people are discovering new ways to socialise with friends and family

That’s where video chatting apps like Zoom and Houseparty come in handy - but how do they compare and are they safe to use?

This is everything that you need to know about the two video chatting apps – from how to use them to how their security features add up.

What is Zoom?

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Zoom is a free video chatting app that has gained popularity in recent weeks, as demand for online social networking increases.

On a video call, you can see a thumbnail video of each participant. You can also share your screen, send text messages to the group and share files and images.

Zoom is available to download on your computer and on iPhone and Android devices.

Is Zoom safe to use?

There have been some concerns raised around the safety features of Zoom.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) compiled a list of privacy issues that users should be aware of:

The host of a Zoom call has the ability to monitor the activities of the attendees in a call. “If attendees of a meeting do not have the Zoom video window in focus during a call where the host is screen-sharing, after 30 seconds the host can see indicators next to each participant’s name indicating that the Zoom window is not active,” the EFF explained.

If any users record any calls via Zoom, the administrators have access to the contents of that call - including video, audio, transcripts, chat files and access to sharing, analytics and cloud management.

During any meetings, administrators can see details like the operating system, IP address and location data of each of the participants.

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There’s also the issue of ‘Zoombombing’, a term that refers to random people crashing various Zoom chats. Most Zoom meetings have a public link that, if clicked, allows anyone to join.

To make sure your Zoom call is limited to only the people invited to the chat, head to settings, scroll down to ‘screen sharing’ and under the ‘who can share?’ tab, click ‘host only’ before saving settings.

CEO Eric S. Yuan pledged to fix the security vulnerabilities that have been highlighted.

In an “Ask Eric Anything” post featured on the official Zoom blog, Yuan addressed a few questions regarding the security and privacy features of Zoom.

When asked how users can prevent unwanted participants from dropping into their call, Yuan said: “First of all, every meeting should have a password. And ideally, only use your personal meeting ID for internal meetings. Otherwise, use a randomly generated meeting ID.

“The Waiting Room is also great for security, especially for schools. For business meetings, I normally use a password, and after everyone has joined, I lock the meeting – and for very sensitive meetings, I will only allow authenticated users from the same domain as mine to join the meeting.”

What is Houseparty?

Also growing quickly in popularity is video chatting app, Houseparty. It’s available for free to download on Android and iOS devices.

First launched in 2016, Houseparty was acquired by makers of Fortnite, Epic Games, in 2019.

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Similar to Zoom, everyone on the call can be seen on-screen at the same time. Where Zoom is more professional and business orientated, Houseparty has a more fun approach.

When you're in a ‘room’ with your friends, you can play various games with up to eight people, such as Heads Up, Trivia and Quick Draw.

You can also leave ‘Facemails’ for friends, like a voicemail, but a video.

To make it easier to find friends, you can link your Houseparty account with your phone contacts and your social media accounts.

Is Houseparty safe to use?

According to Forbes, Houseparty has no obvious flaws or security problems after having cybersecurity and privacy researcher Luka Stefanko take a look at the app.

Stefanko told Forbes: “I analysed the app’s permissions useage and since the app provides video chats with your friends it is logical that request permissions are necessary. I haven’t found any shady misusing of [these permissions] by the app.

“The app doesn’t provide a lot of in-app options and settings, which creates less scenarios for exploiting security issues.”

However, the app has come under fire after rumours of hacked accounts have started circulating on social media.

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Houseparty has denied all claims of hacked accounts, assuring their users that the app is safe.

Houseparty said: “We are investigating indications that the recent hacking rumours were spread by a paid commercial smear campaign to harm Houseparty.”

The video chatting app is now offering a $1,000,000 bounty for anyone who can provide real proof of such a campaign – for anyone who thinks they do, they should email [email protected]. This bounty was announced on 31 March, 2020 but there has been no update since.

While using the app though, you should be aware that unless you ‘lock the room’ that you and your friends are using to chat and play games, any of your other friends (or friends’ friends) can join.

There is an easy fix for this - just hit the padlock button at the bottom of the screen.

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