Google Meet, the video conferencing tool formerly known as Google Hangouts Meet, is arriving for consumers “over the coming weeks.” Until now, Google Meet was only available to business and education users via G Suite. Anyone with a Google Account will be able to start, join, and schedule a Google Meet call for free “starting in early May.” But there are some limitations: Meet video calls can have up to 100 participants and last up to 60 minutes. Google will start to enforce the time limit restriction on September 30.

On Alphabet’s Q1 2020 earnings call yesterday, CEO Sundar Pichai revealed that Google Meet passed 100 million meeting participants last week and is adding “roughly” 3 million new users every day. That’s still a far cry from Zoom’s 200 million meeting participants, but at least it’s on the same order of magnitude. Last month, Microsoft shared that Skype’s daily active users were up 70% to 40 million.

In the age of coronavirus, it’s not surprising that workers are increasingly using video conferencing tools. What caught tech companies off guard, however, is that people would also use their work video chat tools for fun. Zoom started as an enterprise tool, even if it’s now also being used to broadcast yoga classes, happy hours, and dinner parties. Zoom traded privacy and security to make joining video meetings with hundreds of participants dead simple. As a result, Zoom is now the undisputable leader, and tech giants are trying to catch up. Last month, Skype started letting users join video meetings without having to sign up or download anything. Last week, Facebook launched Messenger Rooms. And Google has been flexing Meet’s muscles all month.

Limitations

Google Meet is clearly going after Zoom, but Google is still careful to leave exclusive features for its paying customers. While all you need to join a Google Meet meeting is a Google Account, which anyone can sign up for using an email address, free meetings only last for 60 minutes. Google is not enforcing that limit until September 30, but even then it is an improvement over Zoom’s 40-minute limit. On the other hand, Skype and Messenger Rooms do not have any time limits.

Google is still figuring out what will happen when the 60-minute time limit is reached. Zoom meetings end abruptly after 40 minutes. “In terms of the user experience, either the call ends or it will prompt them,” Smita Hashim, Google Cloud director of product management, told VentureBeat. “We haven’t exactly specced out the user experience, but we will enforce the limit.”

Google Meet's tiled layout

Google Meet also maxes out at 100 participants. Zoom has a 100-participant limitation for free users, as well, though there are ways to expand this (the Business plan limit is 300, Enterprise is 500, and Enterprise Plus is 1,000). Skype and Messenger Rooms both max out at 50 participants.

Security

Considering Zoom’s slew of security issues, Google is making a point of underlining the steps it takes to secure Google Meet. In fact, Google’s blog post today is full of direct jabs at Zoom. Google Meet’s “security features” reads like a list of the Zoom security screwups unearthed over the past couple of months:

  • We provide a strong set of host controls such as the ability to admit or deny entry to a meeting, and mute or remove participants, if needed.
  • We do not allow anonymous users (i.e. without a Google Account) to join meetings created by individual accounts.
  • Meet meeting codes are complex by default and therefore resilient to brute-force “guessing.”
  • Meet video meetings are encrypted in transit, and all recordings stored in Google Drive are encrypted in transit and at rest.
  • We don’t require plugins to use Meet on the web. It works entirely in Chrome and other modern browsers, so it’s less vulnerable to security threats.
  • On mobile, we have dedicated Google Meet apps in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store
  • Meet users can enroll their account in Google’s Advanced Protection Program — our strongest protections available against phishing and account hijacking.
  • Google Cloud undergoes regular rigorous security and privacy audits for all its services. Our global compliance certifications can help support regulatory requirements such as GDPR and HIPAA, as well as COPPA and FERPA for education.
  • Your Meet data is not used for advertising, and we don’t sell your data to third parties.
  • We operate a highly secure and resilient private network that encircles the globe and connects our data centers to each other — ensuring that your data stays safe. Trust is built on transparency and we publish the locations of all our data centers.

Aside from the Android and iOS apps, this is basically a timeline of Zoom’s issues over late March and early April.

Google Hangouts’ future in question

Given that Google has not just dropped the Hangouts brand from Chat and Meet but is expanding Meet, in particular, one has to wonder if Hangouts’ days are numbered. After all, Google had planned to kill off Hangouts for G Suite customers in October 2019. But Hangouts still has features Google Meet doesn’t have, such as the ability to call phone numbers directly. And so Google continues to waffle on what to do with Hangouts, as evidenced when we asked about the service’s fate.

“So Google Hangouts … I mean Google Hangouts — it’s still there,” Hashim told VentureBeat. “We do want all of the users to use Google Meet for video conferencing. That would be our recommendation. But Google Hangouts also has chat built into it. It has voice built into it. So if users are using Google Hangouts, they can continue to use it. Google Hangouts, as you may know, we launched in 2010, and then Google Meet is a newer product actually built first for businesses. Things like many more meeting participants, like advanced layouts, closed captioning, that kind of support. This is a product we launched in 2018, and this is the one which we are now making available to all of the individual users.”

Hashim said Google is not currently able to commit to porting Hangouts’ features to Google Meet.


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