Google Meet adding blurred backgrounds, images, and other new features

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Google Meet's new features will help it to better take on Zoom.
Photo: Google Meet

Thanks to people working from home and coronavirus lockdown, 2020 has been the year of videoconferencing apps — and Google Meet is adding a few new features to try and take on rival Zoom.

According to a new report from 9to5Google, Google Meet is working on new features that will allow users to add images or blur the background of their video calls. This is a feature that already exists for Zoom and Skype users, although this will be the first time it’s available on Google meet.

Zoom does an about-face on end-to-end encryption

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Zoom will offer top-tier encryption to all users.
Photo: Allie Smith/Unsplash

Zoom promised on Wednesday to make end-to-end encryption an option for all users, not just paying ones.

This video conferencing app became incredibly popular during the COVID-19 epidemic. But it also drew criticism for weak security.

Zoom worked quickly to fix that, but again faced complaints when the company decided that end-to-end encryption would only be for paying customers. That’s a decision it changed today.

Facebook Messenger Rooms can handle calls with up to 50 people in US

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Facebook Messenger Rooms allows users to host video calls of up to 50 people free of charge.
Photo: Facebook

Facebook took on Zoom and FaceTime Thursday by enabling its new video-calling service, Messenger Rooms, to make free calls between as many as 50 people.

The feature was announced last month, and is available now is the US and Canada. It’ll be rolled out globally next week, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Zoom buys startup to bring end-to-end encryption to video calls

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Zoom promises to work harder to protect user privacy.
Zoom calls are already encrypted, and the company committed today to step up to end-to-end encryption.
Photo: Zoom

Zoom on Thursday acquired Keybase for its experience with encryption and security.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought millions of new users to Zoom, but also criticism for weak security. Its stated goal in purchasing the smaller company, which developed its own messaging and file-sharing service, is to bring end-to-end encryption to Zoom meetings.

Google Meet goes free to tackle Zoom’s lockdown dominance

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From live transcription to 100-person support, Google Meets is packed with features.
Photo: Google Meet

To lend a helping hand during coronavirus lockdown, Google Wednesday announced that it will be making its premium videoconferencing service Google Meet free to users starting in the next few weeks.

Google Meet is the business-oriented version of Google Hangouts. It supports up to 100 callers with no time limits on conversations, making it a good enterprise-focused video chat tool. While normally Google Meet comes with a price tag attached, it’s now free to all Google users through September 30.

Thursday’s Parks and Rec reunion was shot on iPhone, directed via Zoom

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Expect everyone to look a little older than they do here.
Photo: NBC/Parks and Recreation

The half-hour reunion special of Parks and Recreation, airing this Thursday, was entirely shot on iPhone due to the challenges of production during the current coronavirus pandemic.

The logistics of getting the episode together were “very difficult,” co-creator Mike Schur told trade publication Variety. Not only did the special have to be written in under three days, but it then had to be directed via Zoom, with the cast filming themselves using a “little rig with a tripod,” an iPhone, light, and microphone.

Mozilla rates the video-calling apps; praises FaceTime for ‘holy grail’ of encryption

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A Group FaceTime call on the Mac.
FaceTime isn't perfect, but it's pretty great for encryption.
Photo: Apple

Video-calling apps are booming right now, but which ones can you trust when it comes to security? A Mozilla report published Tuesday assesses all the major platforms, noting which apps do and do not pass the privacy-conscious foundation’s minimum security standards.

The big takeaway? Most of the top video conferencing apps, FaceTime included, are actually impressively secure. But there are a few outliers.

Using the Space bar for Push to Talk makes Zoom calls bearable

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Would you touch this Space bar?
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Zoom is the world’s favorite app during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite its flagrant privacy abuses, and a history of startlingly bad security holes, people are using the videoconferencing service for remote teaching, conference calls and virtual get-togethers.

If you — or your boss or a stubborn family member — insist on using this software rather than one of the safer Zoom alternatives, this Mac tip will save you a lot of trouble. Using the Push to Talk feature will make your Zoom life a lot easier.

Facebook takes on Zoom, Group FaceTime with free video calls for up to 50 people

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Facebook on Friday announced new video calling features including Messenger Rooms, which allows users to host video calls of up to 50 people.
Photo: Facebook

Facebook announced Friday it will add the ability for free video calling for up to 50 people on its new video-calling service, Messenger Rooms. The change is taking direct aim at the Group FaceTime and the popular Zoom service that has taken the world by storm as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The expanded service will launch by days end in selected regions with a smaller number of users at launch, but will not be available for the maximum number for a few more weeks, the company said.