As the COVID-19 coronavirus plague had us homebound and staying indoors, we were making increased use of Zoom and similar multi-party video conference software for work, education and social needs. This included an increased amount of telemedicine taking place where people were engaging with their doctors, psychologists and other specialists using this technology.
Thus increased ubiquity of multi-party videoconferencing raised concerns about data-security, user-privacy and business-confidentiality implications with this technology. This was due to situations like business videoconference platforms being used for personal videoconferencing and vice versa. In some cases it was about videoconferencing platforms not being fit for purpose due to gaping holes in the various platforms’ security and privacy setup along with the difficult user interfaces that some of these platforms offered.
During August 2020, the public data-protection authorities in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Switzerland and the UK called this out as a serious issue through the form of open letters to the various popular videoconferencing platforms. There has been some improvement taking place with some platforms like Zoom implementing end-to-end encryption, Zoom implementing improved meeting-control facilities and some client software for the various platforms offering privacy features like defocusing backgrounds.
Zoom has now answered the call for transparency regarding user privacy by notifying all the participants in a multi-party videoconference about who can save or share content out of the videoconference. This comes in to play with particular features and apps like recording, transcription, polls and Q&A functionality. It will also notify others if someone is running a Zoom enhanced-functionality app that may compromise other users’ privacy.
There is also the issue of alerting users about who the account owner is in relation to these privacy issues. For corporate or education accounts, this would be the business or educational institution who set up the account. But most of us who operate our personal Zoom accounts would have the accounts in our name.
Personally, I would also like to have the option to know about data-sovereignty information for corporate, education or similar accounts. This can be important if Zoom supports on-premises data storage or establishes “data-trustee” relationships with other telco or IT companies and uses this as a means to assure proper user privacy, business confidentiality and data sovereignty. A good example of this could be the European public data cloud that Germany and France are wanting to set up to compute with American and Chinese offerings while supporting European values.
Another issue is how this will come about during a video conference where the user is operating their session full-screen with the typical tile-up view but not using the enhanced-functionality features. Could this be like with Websites that pop up a consent notification disclosing what cookies or similar features are taking place when one uses the Website for the first time or moves to other pages?
It will be delivered as part of the latest updates for Zoom client software across all the platforms. This may also be a feature that will have to come about for other popular videoconferencing platforms like Microsoft Teams or Skype as a way to assure users of their conversation privacy and business confidentiality.
Most of us have a preference for seeing people face-to-face but people who are from the Generation Z or younger generations increasing are interested in making and taking videocalls.
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and its associated stay-at-home requirements enacted by many a jurisdiction has had us wanting to make more of the videocalls. This includes participating in multiple-party videoconferences for work, learning or social life using platforms like Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams.
How presentable do you look?
As a kid who has shown interest in science-fiction and futurist-technology material, I had seen plenty of reference to videocalls as part of what communications would be about in the future. A lot of this material talked of videocall technology as a “Picturephone” or videophone and illustrated regular use of this mode of calling.
At times I had engaged in conversation about this technology and how it would fit in to our lives. An issue that was raised by some girls and women I talked to was having to “look beautiful or handsome enough” for the videocall. We raised issues like having the need to dress up or to get your hair or face right for that call.
Not all times may be right for those videocalls
The Mashable article referenced the situation of the author being in nightwear when the Facetime call came in. This could extend to being dressed in everyday clothing you wear around the house versus the more impressionable clothing you wear when away from home or receiving visitors.
Here you can take a voice call in a flexible manner. For example, you could be out and about, you could be doing other activities at home or not worrying about being fully dressed up to take the call. The person on the other side of the line doesn’t know what you are doing or how you look.
How emotionally prepared are you?
Another factor raised is how emotionally prepared you should be. Here you would make sure you are emotionally prepared to meet someone face-to-face, similarly you should be emotionally prepared for that videocall. This is the analogy of when someone drops in at your home unexpected with this sudden arrival being very stressful for them.
This is because a videocall can be like a long face-to-face conversation rather than something that can take place quickly. Some callers can use these videocalls to pick up on any facial expressions that you exhibit during the call. As well, if you use a handheld device like a smartphone or a tablet to make or take the videocall, any shakiness that happens with your hands due to nervousness can be magnified as far as the caller is concerned.
Some people even see those Zoom multi-party videoconferences that they take part in for work as something that is very tiring. It can become aggravated where there are frequent videoconferences taking place during the workday for example. This can be about having to concentrate on how each other comes across and the messages they are conveying
How comfortable are you and what impression do you want to convey?
You may also be thinking of making sure you are comfortable before the videocall. It may be whether to sit at a desk or table or relax in lounge furniture like an armchair during the videocall.
Then you think of what the caller sees around you during the videocall as in whether the space conveys the right impression that you want to convey. This may be about having a particular bookcase or picture window behind you during the videocall or whether to go in to the garden or on to the balcony for that videocall.
Some parents of young children may want to leave the toys that their children are playing with lying around. This would be to “set the scene” about their children happily engaging in play. Or someone who loves cooking may leave food they are preparing out but in a neat manner in order to convey their love of food and cookery.
An example often seen on TV news and information programming during the COVID-19 lockdowns was how different presenters set up their “home studios” for their TV appearances when they broadcast from home. A financial presenter on ABC Australia’s nightly news bulletins had a picture window behind him and a set of different books in front of him. Then, on the same channel, an infectious-diseases expert who regularly appeared with commentary about how COVID-19 was to be managed had a large bookcase behind her.
It will also include the privacy of other members of your household especially where the background would show a thoroughfare or area of activity within your home. That is very common with the idea of open-plan interior layouts or having the front door opening directly in to the lounge area.
Even the device you use for a videocall may be important to you. This could be about using a laptop versus a tablet or smartphone for the purpose or even to use that Webcam for the videocall.
What can you do?
A good practice with making videocalls is to make a voice call or send a text message asking whether the caller wants to engage in a videocall with you before making that videocall. Here, it may be about having some warning time to get ourselves ready to make or take the call.
You may want to create an exception to this rule for those times where you and a certain caller may want to engage in impromptu videocalls and do not mind doing that. For example some parents may want to make a point of having their child take part in a videocall with that doting relative or friend perhaps as part of a family ritual.
It is important to consider the videocalls and multi-party videoconferences as a different kettle of fish compared to audio calls or text messaging. Then it simplifies the process of adapting your communications strategies to these different modalities.
WhatsApp and Signal, both messaging and calling systems that implement end-to-end encryption, are dependent on a primary client which is the user’s smartphone. But both platforms also implement secondary software native to most desktop operating systems so that users can interact with these platforms on their regular computer.
But the desktop programs for these services are dependent on the primary smartphone which has the user’s mobile number and encryption keys to work properly. The software was initially set up for personal and group chat abilities only but has now been “built out” to support one-on-one audio and video calls using the desktop client software.
How WhatsApp and Signal work with their desktop client software
Some users prefer to use a desktop or laptop computer to make or take videocalls due to the larger screen these devices offer. As well, there is an increasing number of Windows-powered 2-in-1 convertibles that can easily answer this need.
What has now happened for WhatsApp and Signal is that the latest versions of their desktop client software is now supporting voice and video calling. At the moment, this will support one-on-one voice and videocalling.
Signal have even worked on the WebRTC real-time-communications protocol and contributed their improvements to the source code for that protocol. This is to make things work smoothly for one-user many-device operation, something that could apply to a lot of videocall apps based on this technology.
Both companies will need to work towards supporting group videocalls on their desktop software as well as on the primary mobile devices. This is more so as the desktop computing environment shows appeal towards multiparty videocalls.
As well, the WhatsApp and Signal efforts are about implementing voice and videocalls in a multiple-device sense where there is a primary device operated by the user. This may legitimise other similar use cases like automotive or group-videophone (connected-TV / set-top device) use cases.
It will be hard for the traditional landline telephone service to disappear from our lives altogether. This is even though an increasing number of households are using mobile phones for their voice communications. The Parks Associates report was written with the past year in mind thanks to the COVID-19 coronavirus plague having most of us around the world housebound.
At the moment, most telcos and ISPs are offering the traditional landline telephone service as part of one or more multiple-play telecommunications packages. These packages encompass a combination of services including:
landline telephone service,
fixed broadband Internet,
multichannel pay TV,
mobile telephone service
mobile broadband Internet
Often the landline telephony service is anchored to a “cheap-to-call-the-nation” tariff plan where you can make many calls and talk for a long time on these calls per month to home and business telephone numbers within your country. A lot of these plans even offer unlimited phone calls to regular home and business numbers at least for the cost of the subscription fee.
There are also some of these plans offering the ability to call mobile phones based within your country for dirt cheap prices or as unlimited-calling destinations. The plans will even have international calling packages that make it cheap to call the world, especially landlines and, perhaps, mobile numbers in the popular countries, from your landline service.
How is the landline telephone service now delivered?
Increasingly such services are being delivered as a hybrid VoIP service rather than the traditional circuit-switched voice telephony service associated with the Plain Old Telephone Service.
An increasing number of routers offered by telcos and ISPs support Fixed Line IP out of the box, serving as a VoIP DECT base station and / or VoIP analogue-telephone adaptor
The first method, typically used with packet-only network transports like DOCSIS-based cable modems, fibre-to-the-premises fibre optic, fibre-to-the-building fibre-optic with Ethernet cabling to the premises, fixed-wireless or even naked/dry-loop DSL is known as Fixed Line IP. Here you have a traditional telephone connected to an analogue-telephony-adaptor, a DECT-based cordless telephone using an IP-driven DECT base station or a dedicated VoIP telephone connected to your home network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet. The analogue-telephony adaptor and/or IP-based DECT base station will be likely to be integrated in your home network router especially if it comes from your telco or ISP.
This setup may also include the use of a “softphone” app that runs on your regular computer or smartphone. Here, this software emulates an IP-based fixed-line telephone on one of these computing devices so you can take calls from your fixed-line service with your smartphone, tablet or laptop computer. Such apps are used with business telephony setups but are being considered of value for small-business and residential telephony services provided using Fixed Line IP.
Infact the Fixed Line IP service is now considered the way to deliver traditional voice telephony due to it being media-agnostic. As well, it plays in to telecommunications platforms where infrastructure and service are provided by different entities like what we are seeing with the UK’s Openreach, Australia’s NBN and New Zealand’s Chorus; along with the rise of independent infrastructure providers providing competitive wholesale telecommunications service.
Newer smartphones are offering Wi-Fi calling, delivering cellular mobile telephony via any Wi-Fi network you are connected to with them
The other method is to use Wi-Fi Calling where a cellular telephony service is provided by Wi-Fi through your home or other network. This is equivalent to a traditional cellular telephony service with your mobile number ringing on your Wi-Fi-Calling enabled smartphone no matter whether it is connected via Wi-Fi or the mobile network. Recent iterations of iOS and Android provide native support for Wi-Fi calling.
The landline telephone service and voice telephony in general is being used as a way to keep in touch with family and friends and to avoid social isolation. This especially appeals to communities whose constituents haven’t adapted to mobile telephone or online services, something that is typical of some religious communities and schools.
Working or running a business from home can also appeal to some users as a reason to maintain a traditional fixed telephony service. This may be in conjunction to maintaining a mobile telephony service that is kept for calling while away from home. As well, most tax codes will accept the establishment and maintenance of telecommunications services associated with working or running a business as legitimately-deductable business expenses.
Voice telephony is being seen as a key modality for providing any sort of telehealth services. This reduces frustration associated with establishing and running a videocall. It is also more familiar for people who need medical help.
Older people are the key user groups who value the traditional fixed telephone, Here, it is a very familiar service for them as these services became ubiquitous in everyone’s homes since the end of World War II. As well, the landline telephone service is considered by the national emergency numbers like 911 in the USA, 999 in the UK or 000 in Australia as a sure-fire link to emergency help through these numbers. This is typically due to setups like mapping landline numbers that call emergency numbers to physical addresses.
Increasingly the concept of unified communication services is being exposed to small business and home users with all the features associated with big-business telephony. This has been a trend with the history of telecommunications evolved from business use to home use as associated products and services became cheaper to buy and operate. The provision of unified communication services to this user class is being maintained as part of differentiating residential and small-business telecommunications packages in a highly competitive market.
As well, the traditional landline service is still seen as a lifeline. This is more so with elderly people, rural residents and low-income households due to it being part of the universal telephone service.
Why is the landline still relevant?
The landline telephone service is still seen as relevant due to a significant installed user base. As I have said before this is facilitated with service upgrades that are part of multi-play service packages.
There is a familiarity associated with using a landline telephone service especially for people who have grown up with this kind of telephone service. Here, it underscores a simple user experience whether making or taking phone calls.
The landline telephone service is still affordable to use which appeals to low-income communities. This is due to it being part of the standard definition of a universal telephone service and the fact that it is also offered as a very cheap service as part of the multiple-play service packages.
Where a traditional wired telephone is used as part of this service, a landline telephone service’s quality-of-service is independent of your building’s structure. Here, you are not finding that double-brick, sandstone or cinder block walls are interfering with your phone service’s reception. It also yields consistent voice quality which isn’t dependent on wireless signals.
The landline phone service can effectively serve in a load-balancing capacity for voice traffic where it is used alongside mobile telephony services. Typically this would be achieved by a person ringing someone’s landline phone number when their attempt to ring someone’s mobile number fails to an “out-of-range” or “busy” condition. This may he due to situations like a dead battery in the user’s mobile phone.
It is still preferred to deliver life-critical communications services through the landline telephone service due to it being related to physical addresses. Fixed-line IP services and cordless telephones will face trouble with devices that are dependent on continual power supply available at the customer’s premises.
The future of the traditional landline telephone service
A direction that will come about for the traditional landline phone service is to move towards device-agnostic phone services and the popularisation of big-business-style telephony services in the home and small business. What I mean is that it doesn’t matter whether the endpoint device for these services is a phone associated with a fixed-line telephony service or a mobile phone associated with a cellular telephony service. This will be due to varying factors like people working or running businesses and organisations from home; independently-managed phone services, and the like.
It will also include the ability for a user to maintain different telephone numbers for different purposes with each number ringing on whatever devices the user chooses to have them ring on with a distinct ringtone or ring cadence and in a chosen order. It is rather than having a phone number for a class of phone service ringing on a particular endpoint device. The classic setup example would be to keep a public-facing “business” phone number and a separate “personal” number given out only to family and friends.
The setups could allow a number to simultaneously ring on selected devices like a cordless phone and a mobile phone, or have a number ring on one device first for a certain amount of time then another device until the call is picked up. Other business features that will appear include the ability to move a call between devices whether they be fixed-line or mobile or answer a ringing phone using another device.
There will even be enhanced call filtering features to deal with robocalls, telephone sales calls and the like. This may include abilities to shoehorn the filtering process to suit a particular user’s needs.
But the future for voice telephony would be about having multiple phone services delivered via a single physical link with the feasibility to have multiple calls taking place over the same link.
As well, the increased bandwidth will allow for voice quality to be as good as AM radio, if not as good as FM radio or better. This will be a feature that benefits people who have, for example, difficult-to-understand accents.
Let’s not forget that for residential and small-business users voice telephony, whether on a fixed device or a mobile device, will be part of a personalised unified or converged telecommunications service that also encompasses text-based chat, video telephony, user presence notification and similar features.
There also has to be a simple yet secure configuration approach for these phone services so that users can set them up to suit their needs exactly and be sure the setup is kept secure.
But at least the traditional landline telephone service is still maintaining some relevance in this day and age. This is even though it is packaged in a new way such as with a multiple-play broadband package or as an IP-based pre-packaged voice-telephony service. As well, these voice-telephony services will be delivered in a manner that is independent of whether the endpoint device is installed at your premises or something you take around town.
During the COVID-19 pandemic causing us to work or study from home, we have been seeing increased use of videoconferencing platforms like Zoom.
It has led to the convergence of business and personal use of popular multiparty videoconferencing platforms; be it business platforms of the Zoom and Microsoft Teams ilk serving personal, social and community needs; or personal platforms like Skype and WhatsApp being used for business use. This is more so with small businesses, community organisations and the like who don’t have their own IT team to manage this software. The software developers even support this convergence through adding “personal and social” features to business users that also gain free social-user tiers or adding business features to personal platforms.
But this has brought along its fair share of miscreants. A key example of this is “Zoombombing” where these miscreants join a Zoom meeting in order to disrupt it. This manifests in disruptive comments being put in to the meeting or at worst all sorts of filth unfit for the office or family home appearing on our screens. Infact there have been a significant number of high-profile Zoom virtual events disrupted that way and a significant number of governments have encompassed this phenomenon as part of raising questions about videoconferencing platform security.
This has been facilitated by Zoom and similar business videoconferencing platforms allowing people to join a videoconference by clicking on a meeting-specific URL This is compared to Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and similar personal videoconferencing platforms operating on an in-platform invitation protocol when joining these meetings.
But these Weblinks bave been posted on the Social Web for every man and his dog to see. There have been some online forums that have been hurriedly set up for people to solicit others to disrupt online meetings.
Zoom recently took action by requiring the use of meeting passwords and waiting-room setups and operating with that by default. As well meeting hosts and participants have been encourage not to place meeting URLs and passwords on any part of the Web open to the public. Rather they are to send the link via email or instant messaging. As well, they are encouraged to send the password under separate cover.
They also have the ability to lock the meeting so no further attendees can come in, which is good if the meeting is based around known attendees. There is also the ability for the host to control resource-sharing and remote-control functionality that Zoom offers. Let’s not forget that they also added meeting-wide end-to-end encryption for increasingly-secure meetings.
But Zoom has taken further action by offering meeting hosts more tools to control their meeting, a feature available to all client software and to all user classes whether free or paid.
There is the ability for the Zoom meeting host to pause the meeting. Once this is invoked, no activity can take place during the meeting including in any breakout rooms that the meeting has spawned. They also have the ability to report the meeting to Zoom’s platform=wide security team and to selectively enable each meeting feature. They can also report users to Zoom’s platform security team, which allows them to file the report and give the disruptive user the royal order of the boot from that meeting.
Another feature that has been introduced thanks to the “join by URL” method that Zoom supports is for meeting hosts to be alerted if their meeting is at risk of disruption. Zoom facilitates this using a Webcrawler that hunts for meeting URLs on the public Web and alerts the meeting host if their meeting’s URL is posted there such as being on the Social Web. Here, they are given the opportunity to change the URL to deflect any potential Zoombomb attempts.
But this year has become a key year as far as multiparty videoconferencing is concerned due to our reliance on it. Here, it may be about seeing less differentiation between business-use and personal-use platforms or the definition of a basic feature set that these videoconferencing platforms are meant to have with secure private operation being part of that definition.
Since the COVID-19 coronavirus plague had us housebound even for work or school, we have ended up using videoconferencing platforms more frequently for work, school and social life. The most popular of these platforms ended up being Zoom which effectively became a generic trademark for multiparty videoconferencing.
Now Zoom, as part of its recent Zoomtopia feature-launch multiparty videoconference, has launched a number of new features for their platform. These include virtual participant layouts similar to what Microsoft Teams is offering.
But the important one here is to facilitate end-to-end encryption during multiparty videoconferences. This will be available across all of Zoom’s user base, whether free or paid. For the first 30 days from next week, it will be a technical preview so they can know of any bugs in the system.
The end-to-end encryption is based around the meeting host rather than Zoom generating the keypairs for the encryption protocol, which would occur as a videoconference is started and as users come on board. It is a feature that Zoom end-users would need to enable at account level and also activate for each meeting they wish to keep secure. That is different from WhatsApp where end-to-end encryption occurs by default and in a hands-off manner.
At the moment, updated native Zoom clients will support the end-to-end encryption – you won’t have support for it on Zoom Web experiences or third-party devices and services that work with Zoom like the smart displays or Facebook’s Portal TV videophone. This situation will be revised as Zoom releases newer APIs and software that answers thsi need.
If a meeting is operating with end-to-end encryption, there will be a green shield with a lock symbol in the upper left corner to indicate that this is the case. They can click on the icon to bring up a verification code and have that confirmed by the meeting host reading it out loud.
Free users will be required to use SMS-based verification when they set up their account for end-to-end encryption. This is a similar user experience to what a lot of online services are doing where there is a mobile phone number as a second factor of authenticity.
At least Zoom is taking steps towards making its multiparty videoconference platform more safe and secure for everyone.
Facebook’s Portal TV is a set-top box with built-in Webcam that is part of Facebook’s Portal smart-display platform. The platform has shown an increase in takeup thanks to us staying home due to the COVID-19 coronavirus plague.
This device is acquiring access to more of the video-on-demand services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV and Showtime. As well, newer Facebook Portal TV devices will come with remote controls that have one-touch access to the video-on-demand services. You may find that if you even bought a replacement remote control for your Portal TV device, it will come with these extra buttons. I see the Facebook Portal TV as an attempt for another of the Silicon Valley big names to have a set-top device based around their core online-services platform and offering the video content services that “every man and his dog” wants.
But the feature that has a strong appeal to me is the Facebook Portal TV turning your TV in to a large-screen group videophone. This initially works with Facebook’s messaging platforms – Messenger and WhatsApp and you have to bind it to your account on either of these services. You can bind the Portal TV to multiple Facebook / Messenger and WhatsApp accounts to make and take calls from these accounts. But it is being extended to Zoom along with some business-grade videoconferencing platforms, with a notable absence of Microsoft’s platforms i.e. Skype and Microsoft Teams which do have a significant user base.
Here, it will legitimise the idea of your household joining in to a long-distance videocall and being able to see the participants on the end of the line on the big screen without squinting. A classic example of this could be Thanksgiving or Christmas and you want to have your family chat with your relatives that are located a long distance away so the distant relatives can be in on the celebrations.
The Portal platform even has the camera and sound self-adjust to follow the action or to encompass more people coming in to view, This is very much a reality as more people crowd in to and join that long-distance videocall. As well, it could be seen as a direction to have video watch parties like what Sling TV is proposing come to your big-screen TV.
The Portal TV set-top box assures users of their privacy by having a hardware switch to enable and disable the camera and microphones. As well, there is a physical camera shutter so the user can mask the camera out. It is also compliant with HDMI-CEC operation thus allowing for one-touch call answering where the TV (and audio peripherals if connected) will come on and select the appropriate input when you answer a Portal videocall. For older people who would benefit from this device, this behaviour means that they only need to press one button on the Portal’s remote to answer that videocall.
What needs to happen is for Google, Amazon, Apple and others to work towards introducing group videophone devices that can work with a regular TV and use the common videoconferencing platforms. This can be through Wehcam accessories that work with existing set-top devices that they have designed and made available or newer set-top devices that have integrated Webcam functionality or support for such accessories. They would have to work with videoconferencing platforms that are popular at work and at home.
The idea of a Zoome or similar platform user joining the same videoconferences frp, multiple devices could be considered in some cases
Increasing when we use a videoconferencing platform, we install the client software associated with it on all the computing devices we own. Then we log in to our account associated with that platform so we can join videoconferences from whatever device we have and suits our needs.
But most of these platforms allow a user to use one device at a time to participate in the same videoconference. Zoom extends on this by allowing concurrent use of devices of different types (smartphone, mobile-platform tablet or regular computer) by the same user account on the same conference.
But why support the concurrent use of multiple devices?
There are some use cases where multiple devices used concurrently may come in handy.
Increased user mobility
especially with tablet computers and 2-in-1s located elsewhere
One of these is to assure a high level of mobility while participating in a videoconference. This may be about moving between a smartphone that is in your hand and a tablet or laptop that is at a particular location like your office.
It can also be about joining the same videoconference from other devices that are bound to the same account. This could be about avoiding multiple people crowding around one computing device to participate in a videoconference from their location, which can lead to user discomfort or too many people appearing in one small screen in a “tile-up” view of a multiparty videoconference. Or it can be about some people participating in a videoconference from an appropriate room like a lounge area or den.
like in a kitchen with this Lenovo Yoga Tab Android tablet
Similarly, one or more users at the same location may want to simply participate in the videoconference in a passive way but not be in the presence of others who are actively participating in the same videoconference. This may simply be to monitor the call as it takes place without the others knowing. Or it could be to engage in another activity like preparing food in the kitchen while following the videocall.
As far as devices go, there may be the desire to use a combination of devices that have particular attributes to get the most out of the videocall. For example, it could be about spreading a large videoconference across multiple screens such as having a concurrent “tile-up” view, active speaker and supporting media across three screens.
Or a smartphone could be used for audio-only participation so you can have the comfort of a handheld device while you see the participants and are seen by them on a tablet or regular computer. As well, some users may operate two regular computers like a desktop or large laptop computer along with a secondary laptop or 2-in-1 computer.
Support for other device types by videoconferencing platforms
.. or a smart display like this Google-powered Lenovo smart display
Another key trend is for videoconferencing platforms to support devices that aren’t running desktop-platform or mobile-platform operating systems.
This is exemplified by Zoom providing support for popular smart-display platforms like Amazon Echo Show or Google Smart Display. It is although some of the voice-assistant platforms that offer smart displays do support videocall functionality on platforms own by the voice-assistant platform’s developer or one or more other companies they are partnering with.
Or Google providing streaming-vision support for a Google Meet videoconference to a large-screen TV via Chromecast. It is something that could reinvigorate videoconferencing on smart-TV / set-top box platforms, something I stand for so many people like a whole family or household can participate in a videoconference from one end. This is once factors like accessory Webcams, 10-foot “lean-back” user interfaces and the like are worked out.
It can also extend to the idea of voice-assistant platforms extending this to co-opting a smart speaker and a device equipped with a screen and camera to facilitate a videoconference. This could be either with you hearing the videoconference via the smart speaker or the display device’s audio subsystem.
What can be done to make this secure for small accounts?
There can be security and privacy issues with this kind of setup with people away from the premises but operating the same account being able to join in a videoconference uninvited. Similarly, a lot of videoconferencing platforms who offer a service especially to consumers may prefer to offer this feature as part of their paid “business-class” service packages.
One way to make this kind of participation secure for a small account would be to use logical-network verification. This is to make sure that all devices are behind the same logical network (subnet) if there is a want for multiple devices to participate from the same account and in the same videoconference. It may not work well with devices having their own modem such as smartphones, tablets or laptops directly connected to mobile broadband or people plugging USB mobile-broadband modems in to their computers. Similarly, it may not work with public-access or guest-access networks that are properly configured to avoid devices discovering each other on the same network.
Similarly, device-level authentication, which could facilitate password-free login can also be used to authenticate the actual devices operated by an account. A business rule could exist to place a limit on the number of devices of any class but operated by the same consumer account able to concurrently join a videoconference at any one time. This could realistically be taken to five devices allowing for the fact that a couple or family may prefer to operate the same account across all the devices owned by the the members of that group, rather than have members maintain individual accounts just bound .
The idea of allowing concurrent multiple-device support for single accounts in a videoconference platform when it comes to videoconference participation is worth considering. This can be about increased mobility or user comfort or to cater towards the use of newer device types in the context of videoconferencing.
The COVID-19 coronavirus plague is increasing our use of Zoom as a multiparty videoconferencing platform especially for social and community purposes. This is thanks to measures in place to encourage social distancing and reduce travel to curb the spread of this virus. Zoom’s trademark for this service even ended up as a generic trademark word for a any multiparty videoconference just like one often referred to a common ballpoint pen as a biro.
But Zoom is primarily offered on most regular-computer and mobile-device platforms like Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android. This is because these devices have integrated or accessory Webcams supported by their operating system and can take on software from third-party developers.
… or Google-Assistant devices like this JBL Link View smart display
Recently Zoom tried out the idea of a dedicated videoconferencing appliance in the form of a 27” group videophone that can also be a display screen for a computer, TV set-top box or similar video peripheral. It is similar to previous efforts by smart-TV and video-peripheral vendors to provide Skype support if the device is equipped with an expensive accessory Webcam offered by the manufacturer.
But Zoom took a better step to partner with Google, Amazon and Facebook to integrate their platform in to the Amazon Echo Show smart displays, Facebook Portal smart display and smart displays running the Google Assistant (Home) platform. Here, these devices have the hardware that is needed to make or take videocalls i.e. a camera, microphone, screen and speakers. As well, the three vendors are more supportive of programming these devices to take on additional functionality.
These devices have some sort of videophone functionality built in to them through support for some other videoconference platforms: Skype and Amazon’s IP-telephony platform in the case of Amazon’s Echo Show devices; Google’s Duo and Meet in the case of Google-powered devices; and Facebook Messenger with its Rooms function as well as GoToMeeting, BlueJeans and WebEx in the case of the Facebook Portal. The addition of Zoom doesn’t displace the platform vendor’s own products or products the vendor has already licensed from other partners. As well, it recognises that different people and organisations tend to prefer working with particular videoconference platforms over others.
The Zoom software is engineered to take advantage of what the platforms offer including tying in with the platform’s native calendar function if you have linked your calendar to it, or joining a videoconference at your voice command. In the case of the Facebook device, you can tap the screen to join a meeting. All classes of Zoom account can be bound to these devices so you can use the account paid for by your work or school or a personal one you set up for free for social use.
This function will start to appear on most Facebook Portal devices in September then roll out across all the other smart-display platforms over October and November.
But why allow Zoom and similar videoconferences on a smart display or similar appliance? One reason is to have one device dedicated to the videoconference while you use another device to take notes or read supporting material for business, education or religion use cases. It may also be about the desire for an “appliance-simple” approach for making and taking videocalls, something that may be desired for older users who may find the process of creating or joining a multiparty videoconference daunting. As well, there is the encouragement to use an endpoint device that fits in with where it will be used such as the small smart displays that are typically installed in a kitchen or similar room.
What need to eventually happen is for Zoom and similar multiparty videoconferencing platforms to be part of connected-TV / set-top box platforms typically used for viewing Netflix or similar video-on-demand services on the big-screen TV. This is as long as the TV or set-top box can work with an accessory Webcam. As well, the device has to support multiple videoconferencing platforms, especially the common ones; while each platform has to offer a user interface suitable for 10-foot “lean-back” operation.
Here, such implementations, when done right, can be about the use of a big-screen TV as a group videophone for situations where the whole household participates in a videoconference like the many Zoom-based family or community video “catch-ups”.
They have improved on their previous efforts regarding this kind of traffic initially by using a “double-arrow” icon on the left of messages that have been forwarded five or more times.
But now they are trialling an option to allow users to Google the contents of a forwarded message to check their veracity. One of the ways to check a news item’s veracity is whether one or more news publishers or broadcasters that you trust are covering this story and what kind of light they are shining on it.
Here, the function manifests as a magnifying-glass icon that conditionally appears near forwarded messages. If you click or tap on this icon, you start a browser session that shows the results of a pre-constructed Google-search Weblink created by WhatsApp. It avoids the need to copy then paste the contents of a forwarded message from WhatsApp to your favourite browser running your favourite search engine or to the Google app’s search box. This is something that can be very difficult with mobile devices.
But does this function break end-to-end encryption that WhatsApp implements for the conversations? No, because it works on the cleartext that you see on your screen and is simply creating the specially-crafted Google-search Weblink that is passed to whatever software handles Weblinks by default.
An initial pilot run is being made available in Italy, Brazil, Ireland (Eire), UK, Mexico, Spain and the USA. It will be part of the iOS and Android native clients and the messaging service’s Web client.
WhatsApp could evolve this function further by allowing the user to use different search engines like Bing or DuckDuckGo. But they would have to know of any platform-specific syntax requirements for each of these platforms and it may be a feature that would have to be rolled out in a piecemeal fashion.
They could offer the “search the Web” function as something that can be done for any message, rather than only for forwarded messages. I see it as being relevant for people who use the group-chatting functionality that WhatsApp offers because people can use a group chat as a place to post that rant that has a link to a Web resource of question. Or you may have a relative or friend who simply posts questionable information as part of their conversation with you.
At least WhatsApp are adding features to their chat platform’s client software to make it easer to put the brakes on disinformation spreading through it. This could he something that could be investigated by other instant-messaging platforms including SMS/MMS text clients.
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