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Remote Work Tools Are Hot, But Keep Data Privacy in Mind
by Daniel Newman | March 16, 2020

In the wake of COVID-19, we are getting an influx of companies that are promising free or expanded services to help employees take on remote work, which at least temporarily will be the new normal.

A few of the companies that have been actively offering users enhanced and/or free services are Cisco Webex, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. However, there are a plethora of others from Slack to Poly to Fuze and social media and advertisers like Facebook and Google. all of which I’ve seen focusing in on trying to ease the burden of working remote.

Bottom line, the shift to remote work is critical, but I do think it is important for individuals and enterprise users to be very aware of the service selected and the implications it has on Data Privacy.

In this piece, I want to take a look at the current landscape of privacy and remote work, specifically digging into Zoom, Webex Teams and Microsoft Teams as I grade these tools as enterprise level. For the basis of comparison, I will refer to some of the social tools and other platforms out there for remote work, but for most enterprises flipping to remote work during COVID-19 and beyond, I believe these three platforms should be top of consideration lists. If privacy of data is important for the company and workforce, these are some important areas to note.

The Zoom Boom is Great for Remote Work but Still Leaves Privacy Question Marks 

Over the past month, we have been extremely bullish on a lot of what Zoom is doing. The company was fast to market with its Free Service for China when Coronavirus peaked there last month. Since then the company has been a bit of a Wall Street darling, defying the market armageddon, which has seen the DOW tumble by nearly 30% at record speed. The company’s strong earnings results could be seen as an indicator of its strength, especially in the wake of other supposed “Home Based” business remedies like Slack getting pummeled on poor results during these tumultuous times.

Having said that, Zoom has had some vulnerabilities that we have noted over the past year. From its Zero Day to another recent security vulnerability, the company has had to weather a small volume of scrutiny that has mostly gone unnoticed as the easy to use collaboration tool has been wildly successful in bringing people together before and during this ongoing crisis. As the company continues to grow, it has seemingly ramped up security expertise, but one area that I still find myself concerned is the company’s handling of data privacy.

Remote Work Tools Are Hot, But Keep Data Privacy in Mind

In doing a little research on Zoom’s approach to privacy, I did come across a few worrying bits, especially what is reflected in the above image suggesting that Zoom has some pretty aggressive data collection practices that match much more closely to those of Facebook or Google, which are known for aggressive data collection, but are often void of scrutiny because of the perceived value of the platforms. We are in a similar inflection point with Zoom given the massive volume of free users. With circumstances pushing so many companies toward remote work and tools, this is a good example of how companies need to be considerate of the use of free or freemium tools noting that data and content and other privacy rights may or may not be optimal for enterprise data privacy.

Other Social Tools Being Offered for Free Carry Similar Risks

Zoom is a better mouse trap than a Google or Facebook for collaboration. And yes, you can use Google Hangouts or Facebook Video Chat as a way to communicate, but it is worth noting again that these offer very little, if any privacy for users. The policy for these tools match the overall platform privacy policy, which essentially gives carte blanche to the service provider to collect and use the data for any and all purposes that it deems fit.

For businesses looking for true enterprise collaboration, I would recommend staying away from these types of tools as Google and Facebook are a nice way to check in with family and friends, but doesn’t meet the standard for capabilities, security or privacy for enterprise dealings.

Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Show Greater Promise When it Comes to Privacy

In contrast I looked at Webex Teams and Microsoft Teams and their respective privacy policies. While these companies have not seen the same market boom in the wake of COVID-19, that would be largely because collaboration is only a portion of the business and not the entire business. Having said that, both of the “Teams” have come to market with commitments to make tools available to users for free.

Here is Microsoft’s position and offer and here is the company’s software privacy policy.

Here is Cisco Webex Team’s position and offer as well as its respective privacy policy.

As you can see, in all cases personal data is collected for certain reasons, but with Microsoft and Cisco, the utilization for things such as unsolicided advertising seems to be inherently off limits. To me, this is the mark of an enterprise software that is taking into consideration the importance of protecting customer data. Both companies have implications that using data with express permission for advertising is possible, and in Microsoft’s case it acknowledges it uses the data potential to advertise itself–Neither company sells your data without permission.

Of course, every company needs to consider its risk factors and appetite for data to be secure and kept private. I use social media apps and in some cases use Zoom or Google Hangouts. However, with a massive amount of in person meetings being transitioned to online, it is a better time than ever before to focus on the right tools both from a usability and data protection/privacy standpoint.

Futurum Research provides industry research and analysis. These columns are for educational purposes only and should not be considered in any way investment advice.

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Image Credit: Hubshare
Daniel Newman
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