Canadians are increasingly relying on videoconferencing technologies, for both business and personal purposes, to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 1, 2020, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) published the blog post Privacy Tech-Know blog: Videoconferencing – Maintain your physical distance, but keep your personal information close to help Canadians safely navigate the privacy risks presented by increased use of videoconferencing services.
Privacy and videoconferencing
Videoconferencing services (e.g., Zoom, Skype, Signal, Jitsi Meet and Twitch) present personal and collective challenges for privacy. Videoconferencing services have become increasingly prevalent in daily routines as Canadians adapt to social distancing measures, even though many individuals were not familiar with and did not use those services prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Privacy issues caused by the unfamiliarity of new technologies are compounded by the collaborative nature of videoconferencing services – one participant's choices regarding a videoconference can adversely affect the privacy of all other participants.
The OPC's guidance for videoconferencing
The OPC's blog post sets out eleven tips to help Canadians protect their privacy while using videoconferencing services. The following is a summary:
- Research: Read reliable articles about a potential videoconferencing service to understand its privacy and security vulnerabilities.
- Passwords: Use unique passwords for a videoconferencing service. Avoid using an existing social media account to sign in to a new service.
- Privacy settings: Use the videoconferencing service's privacy settings to make the conference private or accessible only by invited participants, and do not disclose details of the videoconference on social media. If a videoconference is to be public, prevent gate crashers, "Zoom bombers" and other unwanted guests by disabling features such as "join before host," screen sharing or file transfer functionalities.
- Videoconference passwords: Use a new password for each videoconference, particularly if sensitive information will be disclosed.
- Limit information disclosure: Avoid unnecessarily disclosing personal information during a videoconference. If personal information will be disclosed, consider disabling the ability of other participants to record the call.
- Set the background: Be careful when deciding where to sit during a videoconference. Consider who and what may be visible in the background.
- Limit overhearing: Be careful about who can hear the videoconference. Consider using headphones or holding a videoconference in a separate room to prevent others from overhearing the videoconference.
- Update apps: Regularly update videoconferencing apps on all devices to ensure functionality and security patches are up-to-date.
- Web browser: If a videoconference will take place through a web browser, consider using a new window with no other tabs open. Consider closing other applications to avoid inadvertently sharing notification pop-ups with other participants.
- Smart home devices: Consider turning off smart speakers and personal home assistants (e.g., Alexa, Siri and Google Home) during a videoconference to prevent inadvertently triggering the assistant or recording the call.
The OPC's blog post highlights some of the unprecedented challenges created by the rapid adoption of unfamiliar technologies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Canadians should exercise care when selecting and using videoconferencing tools, particularly with respect to privacy and information security.
While the OPC's blog post is targeted toward individuals, organizations should also exercise care in adopting and using new technologies to address remote working challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, see BLG's bulletin Cybersecurity and the Covid-19 pandemic. Organizations may also wish to refer to the following guidance regarding videoconferencing and COVID-19:
- Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, Alert: Considerations when using video-teleconference products and services
- National Cyber Security Centre, Video conferencing services: using them securely
- Australian Cyber Security Centre, Web Conferencing Security
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.