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How to: video conferencing software comparison

video conferencing software comparison

What is the best result from a video conferencing software comparison? Our guide outlines the comparison between the major software packages.

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Video conference software is experiencing an upswing in the context of the corona pandemic: Due to the fact that many employees work from home, but communication remains important, tools for video conferencing are currently very popular. In today’s post we undertake a video conferencing software comparison to introduce you to various tools. You will get an overview of popular video conferencing tools with which we would like to offer you assistance in the selection process. Above all, we deal with the security aspects of various tools – a point that is essential to pay attention to in a video conferencing software comparison.

Important factors when choosing video conferencing software

There are a few things to look out for when choosing from a video conferencing software comparison. Remember: As a rule, you will probably be using paid versions, which is why some points must be checked in advance – before you invest. There would be something like:

  • Data protection / GDPR compliance: First of all, ask yourself whether you would like to use an on-premise version or a SaaS solution. With the on-premise variant, you host the software on your own servers – so you retain data sovereignty. However, for cost, know-how or capacity reasons, this does not always work, so you can alternatively rely on a SaaS solution (Software-as-a-Service). The SaaS service provider acts as a processor, so you need a corresponding contract. Your SaaS service provider should be checked to see whether suitable technical and organizational measures are in place for data processing, which result from Art. 28 Para. 1 GDPRsurrender. Providers from Germany or the EEA are preferred. If you choose a provider from so-called third countries, it is up to you to check whether the level of data protection is adequate.
  • Technical possibilities: Here it is difficult to give general tips – the technical possibilities should be based on your needs. So it depends on the individual case. Basic tips:
    • Encryption: The type of encryption that is appropriate depends on the type of data that you process in video conferences. End-to-end encryption to protect communication between endpoint and endpoint and transport encryption to protect data between client and server are ideal.
    • Business Suitability: Not all video conferencing tools are suitable for businesses. Please do not use private solutions like WhatsApp or FaceTime – from a data protection point of view, that would be a disaster. As a rule, there are private and business versions for many tools.
    • Log files: A provider who only creates log files to the extent necessary would be ideal. Log files are sometimes indispensable for troubleshooting, but then make sure that the data is only used for this purpose and that it is then destroyed.
    • Automatic deletion: Both chat histories and the exchange of files should only be available as long as they are needed. In the case of a video conference, that should mean: Until the end of the conference. A certain period of time, which can range from a few hours to a few days, can be set for the file exchange.
    • Recordings: Many video conference tools allow conferences to be recorded. This can be useful for traceability. However, this is usually only possible with the consent of the interlocutor. With your tool, make sure that the tool asks all participants for their permission before starting a recording.
  • Organizational: As in the technical area, the organizational one also depends on the individual case. It is particularly important to sensitize and inform employees. For example, some video conference tools allow the background of the participants to turn gray. If, for example, the children are also at home due to the corona pandemic, it would be questionable in terms of data protection law to see them constantly walking through the picture – it would certainly not be beneficial for concentration either. On the other hand, it could be uncomfortable with desktop sharing if the desktop is not tidy and data is freely visible. The desktop should only be shown without file symbols, notifications should be turned off.

Access restrictions are also helpful to know in a video conferencing software comparison: With the help of a waiting room function or a password, unwanted or unauthorized listeners can be excluded.

Depending on the functionality of the video conference software, a company may be obliged to carry out a data protection impact assessment. This assesses the risks that arise for the rights and freedoms of those affected, but also appropriate protective measures. Your information obligations also include providing all participants with data protection information before the video conference.

You must keep a processing directory because video conferencing tools represent data processing. Ideally, create a policy on how to use the conference tool. In this guideline, you can explain the handling permitted under data protection law and prohibit private use of the tool.

If there is a works council in your company, its approval must be obtained. In principle, video conference tools could also be used to monitor the presence of employees if the login data were recorded. Without consent, the works council would be allowed to prevent the tool by issuing a temporary prohibition order. The legal basis for the approval of the works council can be found in Section 87 (1) No. 6 BetrVG .

Microsoft Teams in a video conference software comparison

As an international hardware and software developer based in Redmond, Washington, USA, Microsoft has developed teams, among other things. It is the successor to Skype for Business. In addition to video conferencing, the application also includes chats and the ability to exchange files. Shared file storage and a direct connection to all Office applications make the tool practical for collaboration. Companies that use Office 365 in the business version already have Microsoft Teams included. You can access it from your smartphone, tablet, notebook or desktop computer.

Microsoft Teams details

You will find the Office 365 apps in Microsoft Teams, so you can edit Office documents in real time and at the same time with colleagues or partners. In one of the chargeable versions, you can purchase the office suite as a desktop version at the same time, otherwise the online version is available.

Over 250 apps can be integrated into Microsoft Teams, which can greatly increase the range of functions. For example, the to-do tool Trello or Evernote can be integrated. Joint notes, project planning, survey tools and, depending on the tariff, other programs such as Yammer or Stream are included.

Audio and video chats are at the heart of Microsoft Teams. You can sort the chats into groups and categories for a better overview. Up to 50 people can communicate with each other in a chat. The newsfeed is also practical: if you want to share information with contacts or in groups, use the newsfeed, which is very reminiscent of a social media feed.

The uploaded files are shared in Microsoft Teams via a cloud. The basic version offers 10 GB of cloud storage; in the paid versions you can purchase more than 1 TB, depending on the license purchased. A wide range of personalizations is possible, and the visually impaired can also cope: texts can be read out, videos can be provided with subtitles.

The pricing at Microsoft Teams

Due to the corona pandemic, Microsoft has decided to offer teams free of charge up to and including January 2021. In principle, and outside of this offer, there is a free version that is very limited in its range of functions. The annual subscription also offers three additional packages.

You can use the free version to familiarize yourself with Microsoft Teams. The extensive functions for virtual collaboration make Microsoft Teams a recommendable tool.

Microsoft Teams privacy and security

This is where things get complicated in our video conferencing software comparison. According to a report , Microsoft’s chief lawyer was outraged that Berlin’s data protection officer criticized the data protection (PDF) of teams. Now it would have been logical for us to access the Microsoft Teams privacy policy. But … there are none. At least none that relates to teams, just the general privacy policy . With the GDPR, which requires that data be processed in a traceable manner, this general presentation is simply too unclear. 

The privacy policy states that Microsoft sends user IDs to the Adobe subsidiary Marketo, to the Adobe Experience Cloud, as well as to Google AIs and scorecard research. In addition to the team admin, the IDs of invited users are also sent to the advertising networks. There they could theoretically be enriched with other personal data. If devices and browsers that are reported to the networks when the app or website is used for the first time are already known there, additional incoming data can be linked to existing profiles so that they may no longer be pseudonymous.

In view of these conditions at Microsoft Teams, it is difficult to believe that data processing is legal: There is no valid data protection declaration. There is a lack of informed consent to the advertising use of the data of all participants. With such data transfer and use, Microsoft is no longer a processor, so that the conference organizer would be obliged to legitimize such data transfers differently. In addition, all obligations arising from the GDPR, such as information and deletion rights, would have to be ensured for all data in all advertising networks.

Skype in comparison

Skype was taken over by Microsoft in 2011 and is probably one of the most famous video conferencing tools. Since Microsoft has discontinued Skype for Business or replaced it by Microsoft Teams, Skype is only suitable for private use and in no way for business use!

Details about Skype

With common operating systems (Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Blackberry OS, but also OS-independent as a web version), call participants can communicate digitally with very good audio and picture quality. In addition to online meetings and video conferences, Skype allows video telephony, file transmission, desktop sharing and, thanks to the recording function, the possibility of recording conversations. Practical: Skype allows the background to be blurred so that interlocutors cannot see everything.

The pricing on Skype

The use of Skype is basically free of charge. Calls abroad cost money, and sending SMS messages must also be paid for. However, the Skype tariffs are pleasantly low and can be found on the website .

Skype privacy and security

Skype is a tool for private users, Skype for Business has been replaced by Microsoft Teams. You cannot use Skype to video conferencing in a GDPR-compliant manner.

Cisco WebEx video conferencing tool comparison

Cisco Systems, Inc. is a US company based in San Jose, California; Cisco WebEx the subsidiary of the US telecommunications group. It was founded in 1995 and is headquartered in Santa Clara, California, USA.

Cisco WebEx is generally free of charge for individual users. As part of the corona pandemic, Cisco has come up with an offer : Up to 100 users within a company can use WebEx free of charge for up to 90 days – your opportunity to test the tool extensively. After the trial period, you can convert the offer into a paid subscription or choose another tool.

Cisco WebEx details

The free version allows up to 100 participants to come together virtually. Only the host needs a WebEx account; all other participants simply dial in using a link. The app runs on all common platforms, on Linux you have to use a browser such as Firefox. It is also possible to dial into conferences by phone if there is no internet-enabled device.

The functions of the free version are impressive: desktop sharing, recording ideas on a virtual whiteboard, conferences can be supplemented by text chats with file attachments, for which 1 GB memory is available free of charge.

Paid subscriptions expand the range of functions: video conferences, for example, can be recorded and digitally transcribed. The cloud storage for exchanging files in the paid version grows to 5 GB. For regular meetings, conference rooms can be set up with Permalink. Meetings can even be streamed via Facebook Live. The picture and audio quality (HD) is very good; depending on the price plan, between 50 and 1,000 people can take part.

While all of the tools presented so far have proven to be user-friendly, opinions differ greatly at Cisco WebEx. Many users find the surface untidy and opaque, others get excited. Ultimately, you can only find out for yourself whether the operation appears intuitive and logical to you; Please use the currently offered free test periods.

Cisco WebEx privacy and security

Cisco WebEx always transmits the data encrypted during an online meeting, which is based on 256-bit AES encryption. However, the data protection declaration does not specify which servers are used to send data during the meetings. When creating a meeting, the moderator of the video conference has the option of assigning a password so that uninvited guests stay away. The back monitor function supports the moderator in determining what the participants are seeing.

Cisco WebEx is one of the Privacy Shield companies that – broken down to the essentials – undertake to guarantee EU data protection in third countries as well. Cisco WebEx has also provided standard protection clauses (SCC), an AV contract (or contained in SCC) and a data protection declaration. As mentioned, the AV contract is contained in the SCC so that no separate AV contract has to be concluded. The AV contract comes about through the declaration by Cisco ( Art. 28 Paragraph 7 GDPR ).

Zoom in video conference comparison

The American video conference software company Zoom Video Communications, Inc. was founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan. The company, based in San José, California, released Zoom, a video conference system that was experiencing a real boom in times of Corona: The number of users rose from 10 million users in December 2019 to more than 200 million monthly users in March of 2020. 

While the tool’s user-friendliness and stability were praised in our video conferencing software comparison review, data protection and security deficiencies met with heavy criticism. Numerous companies and government agencies have banned the use of Zoom. Zoom itself has now made improvements, at least in places.

Details on Zoom

The video conference provider Zoom works with meeting IDs: participants can use these IDs to enter the virtual meeting room. Such a meeting room can optionally be given password protection. The user-friendliness, which is highly praised by Zoom, allows intuitive operation without extensive training. Thanks to synchronization with calendar systems, Zoom can be used on any device from mobile phones to desktops. HD video and audio, team chats or the ability to share screens are just some of the very extensive features of Zoom. In higher packages you also have the option of recording meetings locally or in the cloud.

The pricing at Zoom

In the free version, up to 100 participants can attend a video conference. However, group meetings are given a time limit of 40 minutes. In the Pro version this limit is increased to 24 hours. The business version is intended to appeal to SMEs. It charges per month per moderator, but makes video conferences with up to 300 participants possible without time limits. All details about the Zoom tariffs can be found on the website .

Data protection and security at Zoom

Zoom has already been traded as one of the winners of the Corona crisis – until various security gaps caused doubts. And there was a lot:

  • The Zoom macOS client installed a local web server. Although this function increases the user-friendliness of the service because it is easy to install, it creates a security risk: it could allow third parties to access the camera. There was also the fact that the web server was not removed when you uninstalled Zoom. While Apple deleted the local web server from all Macs using macOS’s own anti-malware program, Zoom published an update.
  • The iOS app also met with criticism: it included an SDK that passed information on the smartphone used to Facebook without even mentioning this in the data protection declaration. An update ensured that the SDK was removed from the Zoom app.
  • Zoom’s privacy policy contained unspecified information about the “sale” of user data to third parties. With an updated data protection declaration, Zoom made it clear that user data would not be sold under any circumstances.
  • Both in the data protection declaration and in the product description of the video conference tool, Zoom mentioned end-to-end encryption. In fact, it is just a transport encryption. This means that the company can access all transferred data. This will continue to be the case – at least in the free version. In a meeting with investors , CEO Yuan said: “We believe this feature should be part of our offering for professional clients. […] Free users – we don’t want to give them that, of course, because we also want to work with the FBI and local law enforcement in case some people use Zoom for a bad cause -Encryption for paying customers only.
  • There was even more criticism for a function in which the administrator can display whether the zoom window of other participants is not in the foreground for more than 30 seconds. In other words: The attentiveness of the participants can be monitored with it. In addition, information about the devices used, the IP addresses and the locations of the participants can be displayed and recordings of the conferences can be saved. After some discussion about the point or nonsense of this feature, Zoom disabled it in April 2020.

Because of this ignoring of data protection and privacy, numerous companies worldwide banned the use of the service in early April 2020.

Video conference systems comparison: GoToMeeting

Another important tool in any video conferencing software comparison comes from LogMeIn, Inc., GoToMeeting. The company, based in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, specializes in remote maintenance services and implements half each through web conferences and remote maintenance (source: presentation on the LogMeIn roadshow 2017 , PDF). Originally it is a European company: LogMeIn was founded in 2003 as 3am Labs in Budapest. 

Three years later the name changed to LogMeIn and in 2012 the company moved to Boston. The GoTo division, which also includes the GoToMeeting video conferencing tool, was taken over by LogMeIn from Citrix in 2016. The company is also known for taking over the password manager LastPass in 2015.

GoToMeeting details

GoToMeeting is a software package for online video conferences and meetings. Desktop sharing simplifies collaboration, which can be done either mobile (apps for iOS and Android), on the PC as a desktop or web version. Meetings can be planned, held and recorded. Ideas can be recorded and presented using drawing tools and a virtual whiteboard. Add-ons make it possible to integrate Office 365 and Google Calendar. GoToWebinar is an offshoot that allows seminars to be held online. The webinar tool can be easily integrated into GoToMeeting.

The pricing for GoToMeeting

GoToMeeting offers different tariffs after a free trial period of 14 days. The tariffs in the professional version are per organizer, per month. You can find an overview of the prices including all functions on the GoToMeeting website .

Data protection and security at GoToMeeting

All interactions in GoToMeeting are SSL-encrypted in all packages. The meetings themselves are AES-256 bit encrypted. A relatively new security feature is risk-based authentication: unusual processes, such as logging in from unauthorized devices or new locations, are automatically determined and thus visible to the respective organizer. Single sign-on (SSO) is also practical for security: only one password is created company-wide, so that individual users do not have to manage passwords.

All LogMeIn products, including GoToMeeting, are GDPR compliant. The company presents details in a GDPR resource center.

Video conferencing software comparison: Jitsi

Jitsi is an open source tool – more precisely a collection of software that combines IP telephony, video conferencing and instant messaging. The tool can be used under Windows, macOS and Linux, but there are also mobile apps and a version for the web browser. As a Java implementation, Jitsi can be used on all platforms with a Java runtime environment. In the context of the corona crisis, Jitsi was often recommended for online lessons, as neither registration nor installation is necessary.

Details about Jitsi

The open source tool Jitsi is Web RTC compatible and our video conferencing software comparison found it is easy to integrate into services such as Slack, Matrix or RocketChat. You can use the operator’s Jitsi-Meet instance yourself without having to create an account . Participants are added by simply passing on the respective URL.

The range of functions can keep up with other tools:

  • Conference rooms can be entered at any time without registration
  • Desktop sharing (PC only)
  • To chat
  • Optional password protection (only for the duration of the respective conference)
  • Document processing with Etherpad or
  • Telephone dial-in possible
  • Conferences live stream on YouTube
  • Conference recordings

The pricing at Jitsi

As an open source software, Jitsi is free of charge. Server usage fees may apply.

Data protection and security at Jitsi

Instant messages are OTR, picture and sound are ZRTP-encrypted. You can operate Jitsi with your own server, which gives you data sovereignty, but also the obligation to secure the server in accordance with GDPR. Alternatively, one of the numerous Jitsi servers publicly accessible on the web can be used, such as the one linked above, which is offered directly by the operator. 

Most providers of Jitsi servers are committed to data protection, privacy and the protection of informal self-determination. Accordingly, it can be assumed that the operators have no interest in user data. However, there is no such thing as 100 percent security: Find out about the server operator if you want to use Jitsi.

At Jitsi, security and data protection depend on the configuration of the server. If you are thinking of running a Jitsi instance on servers from Google, Amazon or Microsoft, get US service providers on board. Depending on the server location, these are not subject to the GDPR, so that you cannot operate Jitsi in a GDPR-compliant manner either. The research community for electronic media e. V. operates a Jitsi server ; the servers operated by Freifunk and the CCC are also recommended. 

A list of Jitsi Meet instancesis stored on GitHub, where the code of the open source software can also be viewed. Before using Jitsi on third-party servers, please make yourself familiar with the server operator! There is definitely a potential risk of data leakage here. If you use your own server and have configured it securely, Jitsi is a highly recommended tool for your video conferences.

Conclusion: video conferencing software for companies

We compiled our video conferencing software comparison information in May and June 2020. Please note that prices as well as functions and security features are subject to change. You should therefore check the current status of the services that you are shortlisting in advance.

As our little guide shows, choosing the right video conferencing software is not that easy: there is free and proprietary software, free offers and some that really go for the money, pure video conferencing systems and software that is peppered with numerous extras. After you have considered the desired range of functions, it makes sense to also take a close look at the data protection and security aspects.