It seems everyone is doing online meetings now. From churches and businesses to government and entertainment shows, Zoom and other online meeting rooms are more popular than ever. Each of them has some privacy issues but with a little common sense, they can safely be used. The following are some tips for safe, and less annoying, online meetings and one alternative that you probably haven’t heard about.

  1. Use a password to protect uninvited guests from joining. One of the biggest security risks is someone joining your meeting in the background and then jotting down all your personal or corporate secrets. A simple password created by the meeting organizer will stop this. However, if your meeting is just for fun, and you don’t have anything to hide, then go for it. Maybe someone fun will join your online meeting.
  2. Make sure you are using a legitimate service. We’ve all heard of Zoom and Webex, but there are literally hundreds of online meeting services available and more get added every day. Facebook, Microsoft, and others all want a piece of the online meeting market so you’ll probably be invited to some online meetings on sites you haven’t heard from before. Make sure the site uses https, noted by the lock in the upper left corner of your browsers address bar, and check that other privacy concerns are addressed. If you have any questions be sure to confirm with the meeting organizer that the site is secure.
  3. Clean off your desk before the meeting. If you are going to be sharing your computer screen during the meeting, take a moment before the meeting to look at what you are going to be sharing. It can be embarrassing when you realize that all your favorite cat videos you have downloaded are visible to everyone on your desktop while you are sharing. It could also potentially get you fired, thrown in jail, or kicked out of your family if you expose something more sinister. Of course, I recommend not saving illegal, illicit, or pornographic to your computer in the first place, but if you have stumbled into the dark reaches of the web with your company (or personal) computer and then plan on hosting a meeting, please make sure you have gone to confession and then done a good job of scrubbing your computer of all the embarrassing files.
  4. Think about your image. When you start a meeting with the camera on please take a moment to look at yourself first thing. Check if you have pop tart in your beard, that you combed your hair, and that whatever is behind you presents the type of image that you want to present to your fellow attendees. Make sure your camera captures you from the best angle and that you have good lighting on your face and that you aren’t in a place with bright light behind you. No one likes looking up your nose with the ceiling fan as your backdrop.
  5. Get to the meeting early. Logging on can be a challenge, making sure your microphone is working and you can hear are also important. Struggling with your tech says something about you and your competence level. Close down other programs running on your computer and if you have low bandwidth in your home or office, make sure other streamers take a break while you are in your meeting.
  6. Mute your microphone. We don’t want to hear your kids, the dog barking, or someone flushing the toilet in the background. Most meeting software will highlight the person talking, and if your dog barks (or the goats are bleating, seriously I was in a meeting with goats recently) then you may be disrupting the meeting and not realizing it. Muting is usually easy to do, just hover over the microphone icon for instructions or press M on your keyboard in some apps, and then unmute (press the spacebar at a push to talk button) when you need to comment. If you are the meeting organizer I recommend muting people actively that aren’t presenting and telling people to unmute or raise their hand to talk.
  7. Use your computer instead of your phone whenever possible. Most online meeting programs have more features available if you use the desktop rather than the mobile version of the program. Some even require you to download a program to your phone or computer for all features. I prefer the simplicity of a browser version, but if you need the additional features, and trust the application, then installing the full version of the program is a necessity.

Now that you know what to do and what not to do, which program should you use? Unfortunately, that is only up to you if you are the meeting organizer. You can’t choose to use Zoom if your meeting organizer is hosting the meeting on Facebook, so you are stuck using whatever the meeting organizer chooses. But if you are the meeting organizer then it is all on you. There are free versions of most of the apps with varying limitations. Some of those restrictions have been lifted recently during the stay-at-home orders but you’ll need to be aware of those limitations. Recently I became aware of an opensource project that is 100% free to use called Jitsi. It is very easy to use and has many of the features of the paid alternatives out there. Plus, as an open-source solution, many of the privacy concerns have been addressed. You can also create a meeting and join meetings without exposing your personal information (email, name, etc.) so you won’t get spammed by the service. Additionally, Jitsi can be installed on your own server, or cloud solution, and rebranded for your company or organization fairly easily. Check out my Jitsi server at https://meet.clnw.com and contact me if that is something your organization could use or you want to host a meeting on my server.