Facebook launches rival to video-meeting app Zoom

Messenger Rooms will allows anyone with a Facebook account to create a video meeting and invite friends to join

Facebook doesn't want to miss out on the huge growth in video chat during the pandemic and is launching a direct answer to Zoom with its own video conferencing platform. Announced on Friday, Facebook's new feature, called Messenger Rooms will allow anyone with a Facebook account to create a video meeting and invite their friends to join, even if those people are not Facebook users.

Initially, the plan is to allow group video chats for around 20 participants, but later that number will rise up to 50 users.

The interface may seem rather familiar to anyone who has used Zoom before. The organizer shares a link and others click on it to join the call - essentially the same simple approach that helped Zoom to grow from 10 million to 300 million daily users during the pandemic. Like on Zoom, Facebook will also allow large groups to participate, albeit just 50 and not 100 users, as aforementioned.

However, while Zoom still limits the length of calls in the free version to 40 minutes, Facebook's Messenger Rooms will have no time limit.

Nevertheless, the new feature comes at a very convenient time since many users and organisations have turned their back on Zoom and have been since looking for alternative video chat platforms. Zoom's ease of use has made the service a target for abuse in recent weeks notably with the phenomenon of "Zoombombing," where unwanted intruders have disrupted meetings with pornography and racist harassment. Zoom has since taken steps to improve security, including requiring participants to enter passwords by default, but Facebook appears to be trying to take advantage of its slow response to its security flaws.

The social media giant says it is taking the platform's security seriously from the beginning. and is allowing hosts to kick out participants at any time if they don't behave. In particular, the platform says it is allowing hosts to "lock" rooms so that no new participants can join. And if a host removes someone, the room automatically locks. Users can also report a room for violating Facebook's rules.

Facebook says the connection to their servers is encrypted. However, like on Zoom, chats won't be secured by end-to-end encryption, where they would only be accessible to participants and not Facebook. This is necessary to ensure performance, Facebook says, adding that it's working on implementing full encryption.

Over on Facebook's fully encrypted messenger WhatsApp, meanwhile, the number of video chat participants is now to be increased to eight.

Facebook also announced on Friday a video chat function for its dating platform in the coming months. Facebook Dating had been set to start in Europe in February, but was postponed after data protection concerns.

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