Violent & Abusive Internet Trolls Exploit Video Communication App Zoom As It Gains Popularity

A trader works after the Nasdaq opening bell ceremony on April 18, 2019 in New York City.
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Video communications app Zoom is gaining popularity as increasingly more people are forced to work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic. One feature of the app is that people can join public hangouts, perfect for isolated remote workers who are feeling lonely. Unfortunately, this feature has become targeted by internet trolls who share explicit imagery and abuse users, reported The Guardian.

Zoom’s default privacy settings are designed with the expectation that trust exists between participants within hangouts. “Zoombombers,” the name given to the trolls wreaking havoc on the app, take advantage of the lax privacy settings to join public groups. They use the screen-sharing feature to broadcast inappropriate and violent images as well as videos, including pornography and exhibitionism. The file transfer feature also makes it possible for trolls to spread malware.

One Public Zoom hangout, called WFH Happy Hour, allows remote workers to spend time in the company of others who find themselves in similar circumstances. Last week, it was reported that a zoombomber entered the group and broadcasted a pornographic clip to the 40 participants. The troll continued rejoining the group and airing the clip, forcing the event creators to shut it down completely.

Casey Newton, one of the event’s hosts, commented on the incident.

“I want to apologize to all our attendees — including my parents, Jim and Sally, who joined WFHappyHour today for the first time. Today we all learned an important lesson about disabling screen-sharing and saw once again the importance of good content moderation.”

A computer game enthusiast plays a computer game during a computer gaming summit May 3, 2003 in Osnabrueck, Germany.
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Other users have reported even more malicious occurrences, such as in the case of Ruha and Shawn Benjamin, an African-American couple who were attacked by a racist troll. The couple was participating in a reading group for children when an anonymous user joined the group wearing nothing but a thong. The person then began saying the N-word repeatedly.

The company responded to the reported incidents in a statement.

“We have been deeply upset to hear about the incidents involving this type of attack. For those hosting large, public group meetings, we strongly encourage hosts to change their settings so that only the host can share their screen.”

The statement went on to explain that people hosting private meetings automatically have password protection by default. The company advises them to keep the protection enabled in order to prevent unwanted users from joining. Zoom also encourages users to report incidents to the support team so they can take appropriate action.