Messenger Rooms – As social distancing measures get strengthened; offices take the remote route, shops go online, schools and colleges stay shut; the demand for virtual video group chats has ballooned more than ever. Bearing in mind, the skyrocketing demand for video conferencing portals during the lockdown, several online video portal solutions such as Zoom, HouseParty, Google Meet, Wickr, Teams, and Slack among many others have capitalized on this growth opportunity.
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Facebook in a similar move has unveiled its ‘messenger room’ feature to allow group chats with upto 50 participants. This video conferencing feature is aimed at bridging the gap between individuals as a way to stay connected and communicate with your close friends, family, and, colleagues, far apart as we are forced to stay confined behind the concrete walls of our homes.
The Concerns Around Zoom
As millions of people across the globe work from home, video conferencing applications witnessed tremendous growth, with Zoom being the most sought after online portal amid the COVID-19 enforced lockdown. The sharp surge in the number of downloads led to it being the topmost downloaded non-game application in the world; with India sharing the most number of installs (18.4% ) out of its total downloads.
Zoom has had its influence on the social media ecosystem by consistently being in the top 5 downloaded apps during the lockdown surpassing the widely popular gaming application PUBG. However, despite its rampant usage, Zoom has drawn flak over privacy and security concerns not to mention the incidents of Zoombombing by intruders which have led to its ban in some premiere organizations including Google, Government organizations in India, and a blanket ban in countries like Taiwan, Singapore, and Germany.
It was reported that Zoom for iOS shared data with Facebook regardless of the person having a Facebook account or not. Zoom later released an updated version of its iOS app after removing the Facebook software development kit (SDK) it had used to implement the ‘Login with Facebook’ feature, that would send device data to Facebook’s Graph API. It was also found that Zoom was using a rather novel definition of end to end encryption. Some of the calls were found to be routed through servers in mainland China. Also, there have been several cases of zoom meetings being crashed by miscreants a.k.a Zoombombers. Half a million accounts of Zoom are up for sale on the dark web. Although Zoom has updated its features time and again, these downsides have allowed other platforms an opportunity to flourish.
What Makes Messenger Rooms a Better Alternative: All You Need to Know
Prompted by seemingly popular demand for community-driven group calls; Facebook has jumped into the fray with its ‘Messenger rooms’. Facebook has unveiled this new product as a part of its multi-pronged approach to boost growth and user engagement across its various platforms. Facebook being in the list of top 5 most downloaded applications, is well-integrated into the lives of millions of people worldwide. Aside from serving as a connectivity solution among 50 people during this Pandemic, Messenger rooms introduces unique features through its Facebook and Facebook Messenger Applications.
Facebook aims to expand and integrate its Messenger Rooms to other applications in the family such as Instagram Direct and WhatsApp.
Features of the Facebook Messenger Rooms
Facebook’s Messenger rooms are the latest entry in the list of video conferencing platforms, offering participation of up to 50 people at once without any tabs on the time limit of the calls. Another interesting feature is that attending a Messenger room call doesn’t necessarily require a Facebook account.
Similar to the other video chat models, Messenger Room Group calls can be simply utilized by creating and sharing a room link with the participants. However, these calls are not end-to-end encrypted, which is a feature Facebook is planning to roll out soon in the future to add an extra layer of protection. Its various features as include:
Facebook is making Messenger Rooms accessible by not asking for any additional downloads; Anyone with a group chat link can have access to the chat irrespective of being a Facebook account holder. You can join directly from your phone or laptop on Facebook or Messenger.
2. Admin Authority
Room settings are controlled by the original creator of the group call, thus having full admin access over the room.
- Rooms can be locked or unlocked once a call begins. A room is unlocked only when allowed participants try to join the group call.
- Creator has the sole authority to remove participants from the chat. Group members indulging in malicious behavior can be kicked out by the creator at any point in time.
- Any Messenger room where illicit behavior is taking place can be reported for violating the community guidelines. People blocked by the admin in their messenger or Facebook account, won’t be able to join the room created by the admin and vice versa.
Messenger Rooms allow users to add fancy and silly AR effects to add a fun element to the chat and AI-driven 360-degree background effects like apartments and beaches to add in the backdrop of your screen, 14 camera filters, to enhance the mood and lighting of the screen.
4. Security and Privacy Concerns
- A person who has logged into his messenger or Facebook account, only the publicly available information regarding the account can be viewed by the group call participants.
- You don’t need to login to the Messenger room app to join the call. In this scenario, you only have to provide a name.
- Facebook has faced backlash in the past for infringing user privacy and listening video and audio calls, but here they have stated they won’t listen to the audio or video calls
- Facebook has linked with outside vendors to review reports and issues that will be brought forth by users, thus, information like room name, room participants will be known to these vendors. Facebook claims that “We require these partners to adhere to strict data confidentiality and security obligations.”, Thus taking them on their words, reports, and other issues might be taken more seriously as compared to other apps.
- Facebook will collect data in every scenario whether you log in or not, use the messenger app or Facebook app. However, they won’t be recording audio and video from rooms. Ads won’t be shown in rooms. For people who won’t be logged into their account, basic information about the device and the browser, they are using the room on, will be recorded to keep rooms safe and secure.