As reports of security issues surrounding the video conferencing app Zoom continue to mount and accounts of video “bombing” grow increasingly disturbing, New York City has taken the extraordinary measure of banning the service from the city’s classrooms. New York City Mayor de Blasio said this week that the city was “not going to put our students’ privacy and our students’ data at risk. It’s just as simple as that.”
The decision was made by the city’s Department of Education in partnership with the NYC Cyber Command, a DOE spokesperson told Gizmodo. When asked about Zoom during a press briefing on Monday, de Blasio told reporters that there has “been an effort by the Department of Education to work with that company to ensure the privacy of our students to make sure their information could not be accessed wrongly. The chancellor and the team at the Department of Education do not believe the company has cooperated.”
The New York City Department of Education said that as an alternative to Zoom—which the DEO spokesperson said the school system does not have a central contract with—the DOE is now encouraging schools to defer to Microsoft Teams and Google for remote learning instead. The DOE added that it’s been training schools to use Microsoft Teams for “several weeks.”
“The safety and security of our staff and students is at the forefront of every decision we make around remote learning, and for that reason, we have asked schools to transition away from using Zoom as soon as possible,” the spokesperson for the DEO told Gizmodo in a statement. “We know this transition won’t happen overnight, and we are supporting our educators with training and professional development to get them onto secure tools like Google and Microsoft Teams.”
In a statement about the decision, a spokesperson for Zoom told Gizmodo that the company is “committed to providing educators with the tools and resources they need on a safe and secure platform, and we are in continued dialogue with NYC’s Department of Education about how Zoom can be of service during this time.”
A firestorm of bad press has dogged the company for weeks now as hundreds of millions of people turn to the service for multi-party conferencing during the global coronavirus pandemic and a need to work remotely while sheltering at home. So-called “Zoombombing,” where bad actors use the service’s screen-share function to show porn and other lewd or otherwise offensive imagery to classrooms of children as well as support groups, has become an issue on the service to the extent that the company last week moved to enable its Waiting Room feature and additional password protocols for all basic and free accounts, including those used by classrooms.
These features, however, arguably should have been in place long before Zoom extended its service to K-12 classrooms for free—jaw-droppingly negligent cybersecurity oversights that have raised the attention of the New York Attorney General’s office and the FBI.