Who uses the most good
The zoom boom: It really depends on which tools you use in the home office
If you are like most of us, in those first few days of quarantine you and your company or organization had to search for the best tools to hold your video conferencing and communicate with colleagues online. They weren't the only ones. By April of this year, Zoom users had risen to 300 million, compared to 10 million just before the pandemic broke out. “Zoom” has quickly become a word that we use just as often in everyday life as “Google” or “FaceTime”. Without a doubt, it was tools like this that helped many to adjust to their new work normality.
With the boom at Zoom, however, its security gaps quickly came to light. In April it became known that the company had disclosed user data and that unauthorized persons could gain access to the video conferences. This was followed by reports that Zoom had deceived users into the fact that the conferences were not end-to-end encrypted as claimed. This made “zoomombing” - the process when unauthorized persons can use a security hole to break into other people's conferences as uninvited guests - the newest word in our pandemic vocabulary. And there were other revelations that weren't quite as publicized: At Zoom, the boardrooms could monitor the attentions of the participants during the video calls and Zoom as a company could use the content of the user messages to target users with targeted advertising. Many of these platform problems were not discovered until after this Boris Johnson proudly tweeted that he had just chaired the "first ever digital cabinet meeting" ... on Zoom.
But this article isn't all about Zoom's shortcomings. During this time of working from home, other tools for online collaboration such as Google Docs, Slack and Microsoft Teams are also part of our jargon. But before we make ourselves dependent on these tech tools in our work, it makes sense to first investigate the question of what thoughts civil society organizations can have about the choice of tools - and how and why they should choose one or the other. The founder and creative director of Tactical Tech, Marek Tuszynski, wrote about the tools that can be used in the home office: “There are options - the real challenge is not only how you make the selection, but also what kind of society you support with your decision. "
When decisions have to be made under the pressure of a crisis or urgency, it is tempting to choose the easiest and most convenient short-term solution. But a crisis is also a time in which one should question the choice of technology more - and not less - because this decision has long-term consequences: It is not just about our own data protection and the question of how much of our personal data we provide are to be disclosed, but also about risks for the people with whom we communicate. In addition, we must also consider whether we are creating conditions with our selection that we will continue to accept in the future, and ask ourselves who will benefit from these new systems. After all, many of these home office tools have the same business models that companies like Google and Facebook got so rich with - with the collection and sale of our personal data. And many technical innovations that are developed out of a crisis could be fraught with security gaps. While the rest of the economy has suffered since the pandemic began, it's already clear that the profits of big tech companies have skyrocketed, including those of YouTube, Google, Amazon, and others. For example, Zoom's profits grew 167% in a single year.
At Tactical Tech we know that there are no easy or ideal solutions when it comes to leveraging technology in your organization and in your work. There will always be trade-offs between data protection and expediency, between ethics and efficiency. “The idea that there are tools that work anytime, anywhere and for everyone, that do not require any further knowledge or additional infrastructure, that are fair and equitable and that protect us at all times is a dream that has not yet come true “Wrote Tuszynski in a post.
Tactical Tech has been helping non-governmental organizations around the world to choose the right technology for almost 20 years. When choosing a tech tool, we rely on a few basic principles. Knowing that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, our ultimate goal is to limit risk, and we always recommend paying attention to the long-term effects of a technology choice as much as the immediate usefulness of that solution.
When you and your organization have to decide which tool to use, ask yourself: is it a
1. Open source tool - is the software license-free and is the source code publicly available so that it can be checked by users?
2. Trustworthy tool - has the software been independently tested and verified?
3. Mature tool - is there a stable, active, user-based community and can it be influenced by a development community?
4. User-friendly tool - is it easy to use?
5. Multilingual tool - is the software available in different languages with localization support?
6. Platform-independent tool - can it be used on Mac, Windows, Linux, Android etc.?
7. Documented tool - are its sources, installation and usage instructions and updates available online?
A more detailed explanation of these principles can be found in the security resources of "Security-in-a-Box”That Tactical Tech developed in collaboration with Frontline Defenders.
With this in mind, we can suggest a few alternatives. If you're looking for something other than WhatsApp or Facebook for your calls and messages, you can try Signal or Wire, both of which offer end-to-end encryption for calls and messaging. At Tactical Tech we use the open source messenger Element (formerly known as Riot) instead of Slack for communication between the teams. For online conversations and video chats, we recommend Jitsi Meet if no more than eight people are involved (if there are more people, the communication can seem a bit choppy). This software can be used from their server or can run on your own. If you need a higher range of functions for large conferences, such as a shared notepad (“whiteboard”), separate rooms for small work groups (“breakout rooms”) or playing external videos, we recommend using BigBlueButton instead of zoom. It's especially handy for those who can host their conferences themselves, and it's great for team meetings and webinars as it allows outside participation as well. Even if there are no real decentralized alternatives to Google Docs, you can try Nextcloud for sharing calendars, documents and files in a team. You can host this cloud yourself or you can find a provider for it. If your organization is looking for an open source alternative for project management, you can try GitLab, which supports large teams in processing a wide range of projects and tasks, as well as in planning timelines. For more recommendations, see this article on the Tactical Tech website.
At the moment we only use the home office tools because of their main functions - to stay in contact and to be able to continue working. But the longer we work from home, the more indispensable they become. They will then not only remain a temporary patchwork for a pandemic, but will very likely take root more and more in our work culture. And the popularity of home office tools is helping to expand their capabilities: for example, there is a demand for employee monitoring software that allows managers to remotely track their employees' online activities and productivity to rate. Do we want such technologies to become as normal as Zoom in our everyday home office working life? That's another reason why, when choosing technology for the home office, we need to think about what kind of future we want and what we're ready to live with.
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