Information on Zoom for Al‑Anon and Alateen groups

A number of Al‑Anon members have asked for information about Zoom, a commercial provider of teleconferencing services. This page will attempt to answer some questions. It is a work in progress by someone who has little direct experience with Zoom. More and/or better information will be considered for inclusion.

Providing information about Zoom does not imply endorsement or approval of Zoom by Al‑Anon, Minneapolis Al‑Anon/Alateen Information Services or St. Paul Al‑Anon/Alateen Intergroup. No claim is made that the information is entirely accurate. Use it at your own risk.

A note on terminology used by Zoom:

Administrator
Person with over-riding control of settings, usually the Zoom account holder
Host
Person setting up the Zoom meeting; must have access to Zoom account
Participant
Any person in the meeting, including the host; does not need a Zoom account

The are a number of training videos on the internet that can help get you started using Zoom. Just search for "Zoom training video" or "Zoom tutorial." The are also Zoom training resources on the Zoom website.

Privacy and Anonymity Issues

The use of most (all?) teleconferencing services such as Zoom puts anonymity and privacy at risk. Consequently you should carefully read the Zoom privacy policy before signing up. If you go ahead, we urgently recommend you do not use the default settings but follow the suggestions below. Even if you do, the privacy policy implies they can use artificial intelligence to identify members personally and even any contacts. It may happen that you will receive ads based on your participation in the meeting. The University of Minnesota has recommendations on securing Zoom meetings, although not all may be applicable to Al‑Anon and Alateen meetings.

Consumer Reports and Forbes Magazine have good articles on privacy issues with Zoom and what might be done to lessen the danger. Read this and this to learn about something else that can go wrong — Zoombombing. Anyone setting up a Zoom based meeting should read these. If they seem like Greek to you, get someone who is more of a geek to read them and advise you. A recent scary article in Newsweek reports on the sale of 530,000 Zoom credentials being sold on the dark web. One of the causes was using the same password as on other services such as Facebook.

Practices Necessary for Security

An important point that is often not realized, is that a member of the group MUST have administrative control over the account, not just serve as host. Some settings can be changed only by administrators. This would be the case when a group member establishes a paid personal Zoom account. Without this, you are at the absolute mercy of the Zoom administrator for any school, corporate, or other Zoom accounts managed by that hosting organization. There is just no way to know how securely they have configured default settings for meetings hosted under that account. Probably the biggest threat to Zoom users’ security is from account administrators who think “they’ve got this,” because most don’t.

To avoid problems from unwanted participants, e.g., Zoombombing, it is essential to require a password to join the meeting. We believe it is not in the best interest of any Al‑Anon or Alateen group to have its Zoom password posted on any website. When it has been requested, we have been posting passwords, but we recommend that a request to do so should be made only after a group conscience decision. Note that the links provided by Zoom include the password embedded in a cryptic manner.

The password can be distributed within the group by email or phone. You may well ask “How about others?” One solution is to set up an email address for the group, say something like midwaywedafg@gmail.com. Then the instructions on the COVID-19 information page might give the Zoom group ID and say, "Email to midwaywedafg@gmail.com for an invitation to join." Or you might not post the ID publicly and rely on email to provide all information to make the connection. Note: No personal email address or phone number can be posted. Alternatively, AIS is willing to provide contact information to callers and the AIS phone number would be part of the virtual meeting information. When responding to someone you don’t know who requests login information, you might request they provide their first name and last initial and phone number. Then you call them to deliver the information. You can press *67 before the number to protect your anonymity by suppressing caller ID.

Another essental precaution is to enable the Waiting Room feature. This allows the host to control when a participant joins the meeting. As the meeting host, you can admit attendees one by one or hold all attendees in the waiting room and admit them all at once. Host's settings for all meetings should require participants to wait in Zoom's waiting room until the meeting host invites them in. This makes it harder for unwelcome guests to join the meeting. See this Zoom help article on this feature.

One of the difficulies with using Zoom is that they can and do change default settings at any time. Moreover, Zoom seems to forget some settings between meetings. This means that settings should be checked and, if necessary, corrected before any meeting.

Pricing Information

The following information is from the Zoom pricing page. There is a free version of Zoom — Zoom Basic. It allows hosting for up to 100 participants but each session is limited to 40 minutes. To have longer meetings you will probably want Zoom Pro at $14.99 per month. It allows up to 100 participants for up to 24 hours.

Higher levels of privacy are available for a price. For instance, privacy at the level required for HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) communications can be obtained for $200 per month.

Zoom Settings to Protect Anonymity

The following paragraphs were adapted from a California AA Intergroup website. For more thorough information, see the University of Minnesota recommendations for secure meetings.

The default Zoom settings run counter to our spiritual foundation of anonymity. The meetings are publicly accessible and full names and faces are often displayed. Additionally, by default all Zoom meetings are recorded to the cloud. Turning that feature off is simple, fortunately.

There are other settings in the Meeting subtab that can also be adjusted, such as disallowing remote control of devices, file transfer, data sharing with Zoom, and screen sharing.

Here are some suggested settings for your meeting to use. Please note that most, if not all, of the settings below are not the Zoom default:

Go to: Settings > Recording and click off the Local and Cloud recording features.

In the Zoom Settings section, under the Meeting subtab:

In the Zoom Settings section, under the Recording subtab:

These settings can be set only by the host. The level of your privacy depends on the administrator and host setting things up right. Try to ensure that the host for your meeting has read this page.


If you find errors in the above or can recommend improvement, please pass the word to AIS <alanon@pobox.com>.