Zoom is lifting the 40-minute video call limit on the free version of its videoconferencing app so families can have extended virtual chats over Christmas and the New Year.
The US firm behind the hugely popular app, which has seen user numbers soar due increased home working from the current pandemic, is lifting the call limit three times during the festive period.
The first window for free calls started at 3pm GMT today, Thursday 17 December, and will last until 11am GMT on Saturday, December 19, to coincide with the final day of Hanukkah.
It will then be lifted once again between 3pm on Wednesday, December 23 and 11am on Boxing Day (also GMT) for users worldwide to celebrate Christmas together virtually.
The third and final period of extended free chat will last in the UK from 3pm GMT on Wednesday, December 30 to 11am GMT on Saturday, January 2 to herald 2021.
Zoom users won’t have to pay anything for video calls within these time periods, even if they last for hours and hours.
As ‘a token of appreciation’, Zoom is lifting the 40-minute limit on free calls in time for the holiday celebrations
Zoom users don’t need to do anything to remove the limit as it will be automatically lifted during these designated times, the firm said.
Usually on Zoom, users have to sign up for a paid subscription, which start from £9.99 a month, to be able to enjoy calls lasting longer than 40 minutes.
FREE EXTENDED ZOOM CALLS
Zoom is lifting the 40-minute limit three times this festive season.
All times are for the UK (GMT).
– 3pm Thursday 17 December to 11am Saturday 19 December.
– 3pm Wednesday 23 December to 11am Boxing Day (Saturday 26 December).
– 3pm Wednesday 30 December to 11am Saturday 2 January.
But the company is celebrating a successful year with a festive gift to all its users.
Zoom told MailOnline that from January 2020 and April 2020, it saw 73-fold growth in UK users signing up for a free account.
It was also 2020’s most-downloaded free app in the UK version of the Apple Store.
‘Covid-19 has changed how we live, work, and celebrate in 2020, and like everything else this year, the holiday season doesn’t look the same,’ the firm said in a blog post.
‘As a token of appreciation to our users during an extraordinary time, we’re removing the 40-minute limit on free Zoom accounts for all meetings globally for several upcoming special occasions.
‘We’re proud to have been a part of your lives in 2020 and wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season!’
As part of its announcement around lifting its time limits, Zoom urged users to follow good security practices on the platform including using meeting passcodes to keep calls secure, and not sharing meeting IDs on social media or other public forums.
After Zoom made its platform free during the US Thanksgiving holiday last month, one analyst told Bleeping Computer that thousands of people were tricked by fake emails masquerading as Zoom invites from friends and family.
‘Cyber criminals will often use brands which are most widely used due to the likely increased hit rate,’ Jake Moore, cyber security specialist at ESET, told the Telegraph.
Zoom has been the most downloaded free app for the iPhone by people in the UK in 2020, according to Apple
‘Those who may still be unfamiliar with Zoom but may be using Zoom this Christmas with relatives are those most at risk’.
Dr Francis Gaffney, director of threat intelligence and response at cybersecurity firm Mimecast, said Zoom users must be aware of increased security risks over Christmas.
‘These threat actors will be aware that there will be a surge in usage as a result of this offer and will see this as an opportunity to exploit families trying to keep in touch,’ Dr Gaffney told MailOnline.
‘Cyber threat actors will likely increase their efforts sending fake invitation emails, so people need to ensure the URL links that they are clicking on are legitimate.
‘If all of these steps are taken, you should have a safe virtual Christmas celebration this year.’
Zoom to prominence during the coronavirus lockdown as millions turned to the service to help communicate with colleagues while working from home.
Zoom previously said in April that it has around 300 million daily Zoom meeting participants globally, both free and paid.
To put that into context, as of the end of December 2019, the maximum number of daily meeting participants, both free and paid, conducted on Zoom was approximately 10 million.
While in the UK, user numbers rose from 659,000 UK users in January to 13 million in April, according to Ofcom.
Dealing with this increase has not been without its challenges for the firm, however.
Security flaws were found within the app, meaning strangers had been able to force their way into calls, often sharing harmful content to those present – a practice dubbed ‘Zoombombing’.
Zoom also added two-factor authentication (2FA) in September. 2FA requires users to provide an additional piece of information, such as a pin code sent via text message, as well as a password
In response, Zoom announced a 90-day programme where all other software development was stopped to focus on security and privacy improvements.
It launched a major overhaul of its security features and has rolled out a number of updates to the app to better protect users.
Among the features revealed late in April were the ability to lock meetings and prevent other users from joining, the ability to remove participants in the meeting and greater control over screen sharing.
The company also turned on passwords for Zoom conferences by default and allowed business users to have an IT administrator set the password strength.
In May, Zoom purchased security and encryption company Keybase in an effort to address its high-profile security issues and bring expertise to its increasingly popular platform.
Zoom also added two-factor authentication (2FA) in September as a new layer of security following its soar in popularity.
The log-in standard requires users to provide an additional piece of information, such as a pin code sent via text message, as well as a password.
Zoom said the optional feature would help users protect against hackers taking control of accounts, which can lead to identity theft and security breaches.
Experts stress that Zoom users need to make use of all Zoom’s new security features.
‘To ensure that virtual celebrations are safe, it is important that the “event” is password protected rather than just the URL being shared to prevent easy or unwanted access,’ Dr Gaffney told MailOnline.
‘It is also recommended that someone be nominated to keep an eye on who is joining the call, so any unwanted visitors can be removed instantly.’
ZOOM ‘THE MOST DOWNLOADED APP FOR iPHONE IN UK’: APPLE
Zoom is the most-downloaded free iPhone app in the UK in 2020, Apple revealed at the start of December.
The placing reflects the public’s increasing reliance on video calls to accommodate working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Second-placed on the list is the NHS’s Covid-19 app released back in September.
Zoom and the Covid-19 app overtook WhatsApp and Instagram, the first and second-placed free UK Apple Store downloads in 2019.
Apple didn’t announce exact download figures, however.
The rest of the top 10 most popular free Apple Store apps in the UK were TikTok, WhatsApp, Houseparty, Instagram, Microsoft Teams, YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook.
More: Zoom and NHS Covid-19 app ‘most downloaded free iPhone apps’