The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a huge increase in the popularity of apps such as Zoom and Houseparty, as a means for family, friends, and employees to remain connected via video calls. The success of these apps is based on their simplicity; Zoom users need only click on a link to enter a video conference, while those who download Houseparty are immediately connected with friends who also have the app. However, this simplicity could also be their downfall. A range of legal issues have recently emerged, concerning the security and privacy rights of users.  

A training session conducted via Zoom by Dublin GAA club Ballymun Kickhams was recently compromised when hackers entered the meeting and shared pornographic images. This is an example of an ongoing issue called ‘Zoombombing’, where uninvited users crash meetings to distribute shock imagery. ‘Zoombombing’ is made possible by Zoom’s default settings which allow any participant with the relevant link to access the session. Zoom has also been criticised for its lack of transparency in relation to the encryption used to protect meetings. It has admitted that end-to-end encryption, the highest form of internet privacy, is not used. This means that Zoom itself has access to all video call data. Google is the latest company to ban the use of Zoom amongst employees, citing security issues. Additionally, Zoom is facing a class action lawsuit for transferring data to Facebook without notifying users. 

In February there were 130,000 weekly downloads of Houseparty. This rose to over 2 million per week in March. Houseparty’s surge in popularity soon suffered a setback, when rumours began to circulate that the app had been compromised and that users’ Spotify, Amazon, and PayPal accounts had been hacked. Though Houseparty dismissed these rumours as part of a smear campaign, security concerns were raised. Houseparty’s privacy policy states that content from private video chats can be used for marketing purposes and that non-personal data can still be used after the service has been uninstalled. The app tracks users by default and this has raised concerns over whether the app is in compliance with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Houseparty is owned by Epic Games, a company that has previously come under scrutiny for non-compliance with GDPR regulations. 

A side effect of the Covid-19 pandemic is that it has altered the way in which we communicate with each other. It is becoming more and more evident that work and social interactions can take place from home. However, the spotlight on services such as Zoom and Houseparty has highlighted that they were unprepared for such a sudden and large influx of users. With the potential legal issues mounting, it is unclear whether the continued use of these apps will be a viable option when the current crisis has ended. 


Deirbhile O’Neill – Law Writer