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One neat plug-in to join a Zoom call from your browser

Natasha Lomas

Want to join a Zoom meeting in the browser without having to download its app to do so? Check out this browser plug-in that shortcuts the needless friction the videoconferencing company has baked into the process of availing yourself of its web client.

As we noted last week, Zoom does have a zero download option -- it just hides it really well, preferring to push people to download its app. It's pretty annoying to say the least. Some have even called it irresponsible, during the coronavirus pandemic, given how many people are suddenly forced to work from home where they may be using locked down corporate laptops that don't allow them to download apps.

Software engineer, Arkadiy Tetelman -- currently the head of appsec/infrasec for US mobile bank Chime -- was one of those who got annoyed by Zoom hiding the join via browser option. So he put together this nice little Zoom Redirector browser extension that "transparently redirects any meeting links to use Zoom's browser based web client," as he puts it on Github.

"When joining a Zoom meeting, the 'join from your browser' link is intentionally hidden," he warns. "This browser extension solves this problem by transparently redirecting any meeting links to use Zoom's browser based web client."

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

So far the extension is available for Chrome and Firefox. At the time of writing, submissions are listed as pending for Opera and Edge.

As others have noted, it does remain possible to perform a redirect manually, by adding your meeting ID to a Zoom web client link -- zoom.us/wc/join/{your-meeting-id}. But if you're being asked to join a bunch of Zoom meetings, it's clearly a lot more convenient to have a browser plug-in take the strain for you vs saddling yourself with copying and pasting meeting IDs. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has generally fueled the use of videoconferencing, Zoom appears to be an early beneficiary -- with the app enjoying a viral boom (in the digital sense of the term) in recent weeks that's been great for earnings growth (if not immediately for its share price when it reported its Q4 bounty). And, unsurprisingly, it's forecasting a bumper year.

But it's not all positive vibes or Zoom right now. Another area where the company has faced critical attention in recent days relates to user privacy.

Over the weekend, another Twitter user, going by the handle @ouren, posted a critical thread that garnered thousands of likes and retweets -- detailing how Zoom can track activity on the user's computer, including harvesting data on what other programs are running and which window the user has in the foreground.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The thread included a link to an EFF article about the privacy risks of remote working tools, including Zoom.

"The host of a Zoom call has the capacity to monitor the activities of attendees while screen-sharing," the digital rights group warned. "This functionality is available in Zoom version 4.0 and higher. If attendees of a meeting do not have the Zoom video window in focus during a call where the host is screen-sharing, after 30 seconds the host can see indicators next to each participant’s name indicating that the Zoom window is not active."

Given the sudden spike in attention around privacy, Zoom chipped into the discussion with an official response, writing that the "attention tracking feature is off by default."

"Once enabled, hosts can tell if participants have the App open and active when the screen-sharing feature is in use," it added. "It does not track any aspects of your audio/video or other applications on your window."

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

However, the company did not explain why it offers such a privacy hostile feature as "attention tracking" in the first place.