It’s no question that during the global pandemic, Google was undoubtedly unprepared for the spike in video conferencing, leaving Zoom to claim the mantle of “that one program everyone uses to video chat now.” But starting in early May, anyone with a Google Account will be able to sign up for Google Meet for free.
If you’ve never heard of Google Meet, that makes sense. Until earlier this month, the service was known as Hangouts Meet and was limited to business and education customers. But in a blog today, Google said it would begin rolling out free access to individuals over the next few weeks. Once the free version is live, you’ll be able to host meetings of up to 100 people for up to 60 minutes. (Though Google said it won’t enforce that time limit until after September 30th.) In addition to the Google Meet website, you’ll also be able to launch meetings from the iOS and Android apps, as well as Google Calendar.
The one thing to note is there’s no getting around having a Google Account. That’s mostly a security measure, as the service won’t allow any anonymous users to join meetings. Users will also be able to admit or deny entry into meetings, as well as mute or kick participants out. As for other security and privacy measures, Google says meeting codes will be super complex and “resilient to brute-force ‘guessing’”, and that all meetings will be encrypted in transit. As for Meet data, Google also says none of it will be used for advertising or sold to third-parties.
Most of these security features appear to be an obvious response to the Zoom’s security woes and Zoombombings, which have dominated headline after headline. For instance, the Verge reports that the free version will not offer landline dial-in numbers. While beefed-up security, in general, is a Good Idea, this is also clearly an attempt to differentiate Google Meet from Zoom and its bad press.
You could also read it as an attempt to lure more people into Google’s premium G Suite service—though, that’s a terribly confusing strategy given that just last year Google phased out Classic Hangouts for Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet (which, as mentioned earlier, has been rebranded as Google Meet). And while it’s good to have what appears to a be a more secure, free alternative to Zoom, it’s hard to trust that Meet will last in any long-term capacity. Google has a history of brutally murdering its messaging services like Allo, Gchat, Google Buzz, and Google Wave, to name a few. But since when has Google’s messaging services strategy ever been clear cut and easy to understand?