Zoom emerged as the breakout success story of 2020, becoming a mainstay of everyday life almost instantaneously.
With 2021 now upon us, AMEinfo spoke with Sam Tayan, Managing Director in the Middle East and Africa at Zoom, to learn more about the company’s next steps.
With 2020 behind us, what are Zoom MEA’s major takeaways from the region during the past year?
It has been an exciting year for us, and we are glad and honored that we were able to support the MEA region through the pandemic and to be able to provide solutions for people and businesses and enable our users across different fields, be it businesses, schools, healthcare or for personal use.
We are also proud that we were able to handle the increased demand for our platform by taking the right actions at the right time. When MEA countries eased access to video communication platforms to enable virtual communications across different sectors in the countries, we realized that most people needed a user-friendly platform that would ease their ways of communications, which is what we aim to deliver.
When video communications became accessible in the UAE, the number of our new users exceeded the 100,000 threshold for free and paid accounts during the first week of lockdown. This number continued to rise to register one million new users for free and paid accounts after a month had passed, meaning the growth rate of users exceeded 900%.
In parallel, 250 schools, providing education for all levels up to high school, benefited from the offer of the “Zoom” company based on lifting restrictions imposed on the time of classes and meetings (limited to 40 minutes), which is an exclusive offer in the education sector in the UAE.
Throughout that time, authorities in the region realized the importance in maintaining video communications as a way that aids for digital transformation. Hence we consequently conducted a survey in the UAE, a country that previously did not allow ease in the access of video communications. The survey was done to evaluate how users view video communication platforms and how they think it would change certain factors in their countries.
The survey results showed that 76% of Emirati respondents consider Zoom as their most preferred video communication application, and a further 83% will want to have access to video communication applications post-COVID. Not only that, but 69% see themselves working remotely in the future and 66% believe that having access to video communication applications would enhance the economy and innovation in the UAE.
With that in mind, it looks like the growth rate of Zoom in the UAE is set to increase along with the trend of virtual communications, since it has become incorporated with many people’s lifestyles.
Cybersecurity is a constant concern for users online. How is Zoom ensuring that their users’ experience on the platform is safe and reliable?
Yes, cybersecurity is a constant concern for users online, especially with the recent privacy breaches we have seen with various platforms. At Zoom however, we feel a responsibility to help where we can.
As more users start using our platform, we have been proactively engaging with them to ensure they understand Zoom’s relevant policies and the best ways to use the application, including many recent updates to Zoom’s security features that help users protect their meetings.
In fact, to showcase how seriously we take our users’ privacies, at the beginning of the lockdown, we started a 90-day plan, through which we doubled down on our commitment to security, and we are proactively working to better identify, address, and fix issues.
We enacted a 90-day feature freeze on all features not related to privacy, safety, or security. We released Zoom 5.0, featuring AES 256 GCM encryption, the Security icon and the “Report a User” feature, changed default settings for meetings (turning on passwords and waiting rooms by default), tighter Zoom Chat controls, and more.
We also acquired Keybase, started building our end-to-end encryption offering for all users (free and paid) and began offering customized data routing by geography.
Therefore, it has become evident that creating strategies that showcase the best methods to create a private and secure platform for its users is essential to making them feel safe using the platform. It also protects an organization from cyber-attacks and privacy breaches.
Additionally, organizations must continue to act aggressively to anticipate and combat ever-evolving data security challenges and work hard to develop robust tools and policies to help uphold those commitments. For example:
- End-to-end encryption: We launched our end-to-end encryption feature to free and paid users worldwide.
- Geo-fenced data routing: We implemented strict geo-fencing procedures around our mainland China data center. No meeting content will ever be routed through our mainland China data center (one of 19 co-located data centers routing traffic) unless the meeting includes a participant from China. Our paid customers can choose the specific data centers through which their data is routed.
- Internal access controls: We significantly enhanced our internal access controls. Among other things, we have restricted China-based employees’ access to Zoom’s global production network.
- Government Requests Guide: We implemented a Government Requests Guide, which provides that Zoom will subject any government request to a careful and thoughtful review, prioritizing the privacy, security, and safety of our users at all times. Zoom’s handling of requests from any government must now receive approval by Zoom’s U.S. legal department.
- Employee training: We have conducted robust training for employees focused on data protection and compliance.
As the world acclimates to life under COVID-19, and with vaccinations allowing an eventual return to normal, how will Zoom’s role change in 2021?
Regional governments highlighted on various instances that virtual communications, especially e-learning, will continue being part of the existing and potentially evolved educational practices. The digital transformation drive will not stop with the end of the pandemic and the countries in the Middle East will continue being part of this transition.
While social interactions and offline activities are very important, we are expecting to see a continuation of hybrid learning/working. With that in mind, hybrid learning can reduce the cost of education, offer more opportunities for students to learn when they can’t attend physical classes for various reasons without affecting their progress. Having access to video communications can also reduce carbon footprint by excluding at least 1 day of the week’s commutes.
All these aspects are just a few positive outcomes we can expect from hybrid working and learning. A lot will change after this crisis is over, and I believe while this period is challenging for everyone, we can learn many positive lessons from this and leverage them to our long-term benefits.
Can you share with us any of your plans for 2021?
At Zoom, our culture is to deliver happiness to our users and one another. We have learned that the success of our platform has been largely due to our laser focus on our users and what they have to say. How we are setting our plans through 2021 is through our obsession with listening to our users’ pain-points and feedback has helped Zoom to innovate and become the platform of choice by many around the world.