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 no direct experience with Zoom. More and/or better information will be considered for inclusion.

The provision of 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:

Host
Person setting up the Zoom meeting; must have Zoom account
Participant
Any person in the meeting, including the host; does not need a Zoom account

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 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.

Consumer Reports and Forbes Magazine have good articles on privacy issues with Zoom and what might be done to lessen the danger. Read this article 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.

NOTE: Higher levels of privacy, up to at least the level required for HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) communications are available for a price ($200 per month for HIPAA).

In view of the problems that unwanted participants can cause, e.g., Zoombombing, it is probably a good idea to require a password to join the meeting. The password can be distributed within the group by email or phone, at least if a group has a phone list. 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 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 can be posted..

Another valuable precaution is to have the Waiting Room feature enabled. 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 prevents unwelcome guests. See this Zoom help article on this feature.

Zoom has just announced in an email to users that, starting April 5, it will automatically enable its more solid security features, like password entry and Waiting Rooms. It is not clear from the email whether this actually means a participant will need a password. Here is an article covering this and other weaknesses that still exist.

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.

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.

Zoom Settings to Protect Anonymity

The following paragraphs were adapted from a California AA Intergroup website.

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 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>.