Zoom launches end-to-end encryption for free meetings — with a catch

Zoom, the video calling company that millions turned to during the pandemic, has finally launched end-to-end encrypted video calls for free accounts.

The company said last week that it was readying the feature, months after it drew criticism for denying end-to-end encrypted calls to free users, effectively drawing a line between paid users whose conversations could not be accessed by Zoom and those with free accounts whose conversations weren’t as private.

Zoom said the new end-to-end encryption feature, which makes it much harder for anyone outside of the video call — including Zoom — access to the conversation, will roll out as a technical preview starting in Zoom 5.4.0 for desktop and mobile apps.

Zoom acquired Keybase in May in part to bring its encryption technology to Zoom calls.

But there’s a catch — or a handful.

Because end-to-end encryption has to be enabled for every user joining the call, some other features will not be available. Users on an encrypted call won’t be able to use Zoom’s cloud recording, live transcription, and meeting reactions features, and participants won’t be able to join the call by phone or use one-to-one private chat. And, all participants have to use a Zoom app that supports end-to-end encryption, as the browser version will not work.

Any free account wanting to use end-to-end encryption will have to verify a phone number and add billing information — which Zoom says is necessary to prevent abuse.

Zoom’s chief information security officer Jason Lee said end-to-end encryption was a “highly requested feature from our customers, and we’re excited to make this a reality.” It’s better late than never.

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