As staying home becomes the new normal, the popular video conferencing app Zoom continues to flourish. Despite multiple privacy concerns, on April 21, it was reported that more than 300 million people used Zoom’s flagship video conferencing app.
It’s clear that Zoom still reigns supreme during the coronavirus pandemic, even as Facebook, Google and other tech titans create their own video conferencing alternatives. Nevertheless, a new influx of users means that Zoom is being leveraged for different reasons, including services that individuals would typically pay for.
Although Zoom may be accommodating for large group participation, charging users to join Zoom sessions has become a challenge. For instance, the Zoom help center mentions that users can charge registration fees for webinars using PayPal, but it’s not clear how service providers can monetize through personal Zoom sessions. Erez Ben Kiki, the founder and CEO of 2key Network, told Cointelegraph that as coronavirus prevails, there is now a need to integrate payment methods into Zoom meetings:
“With over 15 thousand users on the 2key network, we’ve received a lot of demand to create a product that enables small- to medium-sized business owners the option to integrate payment management methods directly into their Zoom accounts. We also want to provide the option to activate built-in self-managed referral campaigns in Zoom sessions.”
According to Kiki, receiving payments through PayPal only works using the Zoom Webinar product, which is reserved for premium user accounts, adding that monetizing services hosted on Zoom has always been a challenge, as “attendees would have to either be billed individually or make payments made using PayPal or a bank transfer.”
However, 2key Network has developed a product called SmartSessions that allows Zoom users with free accounts to create a cryptocurrency paywall for their video conferencing sessions. Kiki noted that SmartSessions connects directly to Zoom’s API and is deployed on the Ethereum blockchain as a layer-two solution.
The product, which launched last week, has been designed specifically for Zoom users to generate revenue in cryptocurrency from viewers accessing their live-streamed sessions. “No coding skills are required to get SmartSessions up and running,” Kiki added.
According to Kiki, there are a number of benefits a blockchain-based paywall system can provide for video conferencing platforms like Zoom. He explained that receiving payments in cryptocurrencies makes it easier for individuals who offer professional services on Zoom to avoid banking restrictions and additional payment fees. “This is especially useful if attendees are based in different countries,” he pointed out.
Currently, SmartSessions allows users to accept payments in Ether (ETH). However, Kiki noted that next month, the platform will accommodate stablecoins including Tether (USDT), Dai (DAI) and TrueUSD (TUSD). Bitcoin (BTC) payments are expected to be added in the next quarter.
SmartSessions works in conjunction with the 2key, Ledger or MetaMask crypto wallets. Once a user’s account has been connected to their wallet, a smart contract is created to automatically collect all the registration fees from session attendees. Kiki added:
“Account owners can withdraw funds from their dashboard directly to their wallet. We are also working on supporting auto swapping of crypto to stablecoins. Although payments are made in cryptocurrency, barriers to entry are lowered as crypto can be purchased using a credit card from within 2key — 17 different fiat currencies are currently supported.”
Additionally, each transaction made on the SmartSessions network is recorded on the Ethereum blockchain, which means information is transparent and immutable, giving users access to their payment history that cannot be altered.
However, while blockchain technology does bring a number of benefits to video conferencing platforms, there are still challenges. For instance, Kiki explained that some users have been hesitant to receive crypto payments, even with the implementation of a credit card solution. He also pointed out that the smart contract deployment fee needs to be solved moving forward.
What about security?
It’s important to note that security issues are still present with blockchain-based solutions. While Kiki explained that SmartSessions generates fully decentralized links to ensure that video calls are not disrupted by unwanted parties joining the call — a major problem Zoom users have recently been encountering — and security experts have pointed out that decentralization is not enough. Reuben Yap, the project steward at a privacy-oriented cryptocurrency Zcoin (XZC), told Cointelegraph that decentralization does not necessarily result in secure communication methods:
“Blockchain’s main benefit is that there’s no central authority. This alone does nothing to secure communications, which is Zoom’s main issue. The key issues are scalable end-to-end encryption, which is already hard to do.”
Echoing Yap, Stanford University cryptography Ph.D. student Ben Fisch told Cointelegraph that blockchain technology isn’t at all relevant for video conferencing platforms:
“Video conferencing platforms are centralized communication systems that are often collecting information from users and then misusing that data. All of these issues can be solved by peer-to-peer collaboration systems or end-to-end encryption. We need to utilize cryptography to solve security challenges, rather than blockchain systems.”
Fish explained that blockchains are simply databases that combine cryptography, consensus protocols and decentralized governance. “All of these are separate from the issues users are experiencing with video communication. End-to-end encryption is the only solution,” he added. Ankit Bhatia, a co-founder and the CEO of Sapien Network, also told Cointelegraph that encryption is indeed the only solution that will help keep video conferencing data secure:
“Upgrading from the outdated AES-128 to AES-256 will make Zoom data exponentially more secure — it was boneheaded not to use this widely accepted standard for encryption. Introducing end-to-end encryption would be helpful for protecting Zoom data.”
Yet, this is easier said than done as Bhatia further explained that vulnerable access points are an additional issue affecting data security on platforms like Zoom, adding:
“Zoom ultimately needs to change how it creates ‘meetings’ — Google Meet can generate fresh links continuously, while Zoom creates fixed meeting rooms, making it extremely easy to guess meeting room numbers if you have the right tool. Password protection needs to be on by default, and Zoom should explore other forms of authentication (2FA, MFA, SSO) to protect the integrity of meetings.”
Security issues aside, Kiki remains optimistic about the SmartSessions solution, predicting that it will assist many entrepreneurs and small- to medium-sized organizations that have been affected by COVID-19:
“SmartSessions will provide new income and scaling opportunities for many businesses impacted by COVID19 that have now turned to Zoom to conduct business online. We plan to continue improving the product and its functionality while adding more features like support for additional currencies and the ability to connect with more live video providers.”