Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen the rise of video conferencing services like Zoom and Google Meet. While there were certain video chat platforms before the pandemic, COVID-19 made video conferencing essential, whether it was attending online meetings and seminars for your job or keeping kids engaged following school shutdowns. Even as many schools and workplaces are making at least partial returns to meeting in person, video chat is likely to be part of the “new normal” for the foreseeable future, both kids and adults.

This presents several online safety concerns though: while some are better protected than others, most major video conferencing platforms have struggled with security and privacy issues, ranging from strangers “Zoom-bombing” public meetings to major cybersecurity breaches that allowed hackers to hijack computers. You might not be able to avoid video chat in general, but at the very least it is important that you’re taking the necessary steps to ensure you and your loved ones are safe while chatting online.

What’s There To Worry About?

Zoom and many of the other popular video conferencing platforms that emerged during the pandemic were relatively new back in 2020, so most of them weren’t prepared for the surge of interest that they received as remote education and work from home became the norm. As such, we’ve seen a rash of security issues on these platforms, which parents and children alike need to be aware of.

  • Zoom-bombing: One of the most common issues that cropped up during the rise of Zoom was Zoom-bombing, where unwanted visitors would drop into someone’s conversations. Sometimes it’s an honest mistake, while other times it’s someone just trying to be a nuisance. There are even cases of sexual predators infiltrating meetings and attempting to reach out to kids. Zoom-bombing remains an issue today, but Zoom has introduced features that make it easy to remove and report disruptive participants, so at the very least the problem is easier to manage now.
  • Phishing Scams: Phishing scams have been on the rise during the pandemic, with one such scenario involving scammers sending fake messages warning that “your Zoom account has been suspended” or that “you missed a meeting” in order to trick users into clicking shady links.
  • Low-Quality Security Solutions: Zoom specifically has gotten into several lawsuits due to false claims that their service offered “end-to-end encryption,” which ultimately proved not to be true. While its security level is adequate for social get-togethers and workplace meetings, it is definitely secure enough if more serious information is being shared.

10 Tips to Help Kids Use Video Chat Safely

There are many ways for parents to ensure that their children are safe while using video conferencing platforms. Consider these ten helpful tips the next time you or your child have a video chat meeting!

  1. Parents or another trusted adult should always start and end all video chats and conferences.
  2. Don’t chat with strangers. Children should only log into chats with people they know and trust. Report anyone who comes into your call without permission.
  3. Don’t click on any meetings links from an unknown source.
  4. Never include any identifying personal information (including full name, SSN, birthdate) in your child’s profile.
  5. Act just like you would with an in-person meeting. Just because it’s digital doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be on your best behavior.
  6. Remember that anything that happens in a meeting could exist forever. Most video chat platforms allow people to record their meetings, and even if they don’t, it is easy for other people in the meeting to take screenshots.
  7. Keep taps on all meetings. Whenever possible, meetings should be done out in the open so that parents can monitor what’s being said.
  8. Unless it is required (such as for school), keep screen sharing off.
  9. Whenever possible, stick with meetings that have a password set, as this will limit the possibility of “Zoom-bombing” and other cases of strangers interfering.
  10. Use the privacy and parental control settings on your devices and in the video conferencing apps adds an extra layer of protection.

Video conferencing will likely be a regular occurrence for kids and adults for the foreseeable future, so it is vital to take the necessary steps to stay safe and secure. By being mindful of the possible dangers and take meaningful action to prevent them, video conferencing can be a fun and engaging way to stay in touch during the pandemic.