Google’s video chat service adds 2 million users per day amid coronavirus


Google Meet, one of Google’s productivity apps, has seen an increase in its usage.

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As people all over the world squat in their homes to slow down the spread of COVID-19, a technology emerged as a lifeline to the outside world: video chat.

Over the past month, the coronavirus lockdown has fueled an increase in the use of Google’s conferencing tool, called Google Meet. Now, the company tells CNET that the service adds more than 2 million new users a day around the world as people look for ways to stay in touch with family, friends and colleagues while staying at home.

Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian said last week the service has increased 2 billion minutes video calls in March and was increasing by 60% day by day. He said daily use is 25 times higher than it was in January.

The rise underscores how crucial video chat has become for a world stuck in physical isolation. As of this writing, all but eight states in the United States have issued stay-at-home orders. Schools, libraries, bars and other businesses deemed non-essential during a contagion crisis have closed their doors.

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In particular, use of Meet increased on Saturday, says Javier Soltero, head of G Suite, Google’s line of productivity services that includes enterprise versions of Gmail, Docs, and Drive. The increase was surprising for a service aimed primarily at the workplace, especially since people do not normally attend business meetings on weekends.

“It’s a really weird thing to think about,” Soltero said in an interview last week about – what else? – Google Meet. “It is used in happy hours, family times, DJ parties, etc.”

Last month Google started offering the premium features of Meet free to all G Suite customers and G Suite for Education, the company’s line of software for schools. Premium add-ons include the ability to host larger meetings, with 250 participants, and to record and save meetings. The features will remain free until the end of September.

The change of habits represents a new normal as the world tries to fend off a deadly pandemic. Google’s video tool, which was simply renamed Meet after being previously called Hangouts Meet, isn’t the only one under a new spotlight. Zoom, a rival service, has become a household name, despite high-profile security concerns. Facebook TV portal chat device, once rejected due to the social network’s past privacy sins, has sold.

Zoom in particular has become the star of the stay-at-home era. The service has grown from 10 million daily users in December to 200 million daily users today. But the service has been plagued by data sharing issues, as well as “Zoombombing”, in which uninvited participants invade a video session. Stalls are sometimes coordinated attacks, filled with hate speech and harassment.

Soltero declined to comment on Zoom’s issues.

Google has also faced trust issues in the past, especially when it comes to data collection and privacy. So why should people trust Google now? Soltero said the company’s history in managing consumer products as well as business services sets it apart, so having a new influx of people using the service for different purposes won’t be a problem. “We are not new to this part of the plan,” he said. In a blog post on Tuesday, Google highlighted how it secures video calls, including its efforts to “combat abuse and block attempted hijacking”.

Still, Google has to contend with its overall reputation, even as G Suite, which deals primarily with business customers, operates with more stringent data policies. “The challenge for Google is the global hangover of concerns people have for privacy issues with search and other things,” said Bob O’Donnell, president of Technalysis Research. “Right or wrong, that’s the reality.”

Google in class

Home orders also generated other byproducts for Google services. The coronavirus response has boosted the use of the company’s G Suite for Education tools. As physical classes are canceled, schools are more reliant on student versions of Gmail, Docs, and other Google apps, as well as Chromebook laptops that the search giant is providing free to school districts.

Google Classroom, which helps teachers manage online lessons, has become the # 1 educational app on Apple ios and Google’s Android platforms. Google last week announced a partnership with California Governor Gavin Newsom to donate 4,000 Chromebooks to students across the state.


Classes around the world use Google Chromebooks.

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Some critics have denounced the presence of Google in classrooms. In February, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas sued google for allegedly violating COPPA, a federal law designed to protect children’s online privacy, through its educational platforms. The lawsuit accused Google of collecting information about students’ locations, their passwords, and the websites they visited.

Hours after CNET’s interview with Soltero last week, Google faced another lawsuit over its classroom tools. Two Illinois children sued the search giant for allegedly violating COPPA, as well as the Illinois Biometric Privacy Act.

During the interview, Soltero declined to comment on the New Mexico trial. (In a follow-up email, Google also declined to comment on the biometric trial.)

But in response to general criticism, Soltero said, “We maintain our commitment to student privacy.” Regarding privacy controls for students, teachers and parents, he added, “I feel like we’ve done the right set of things from the start.

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