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Google takes a shot at Zoom by offering free video conferencing

April 29, 2020, 10:00 AM UTC

Following the explosive growth of Zoom, Google is offering its video conferencing service Meet free for anyone with a Gmail account. 

Previously, the video conferencing service was only available to corporate customers who purchased accounts with G Suite, Google’s portfolio of cloud-based products like Gmail and Google Docs. Google Meet lets up to 100 people video chat, with features like live captioning, screen sharing, and controls for the host to mute or eject participants. The service runs on the web, and via apps on iOS and Android mobile devices.

“This is very much a continuation of the strategy we were already on, accelerated by a set of circumstances no one would’ve anticipated,” said Javier Soltero, vice president and general manager of G Suite. 

The news comes as Google tries to refine its video conferencing strategy, which has been at times confusing between Google Hangouts, Google Hangouts Meet, Google Hangouts Chat, and now Google Meet. Eventually, all video conferencing will fall under the Google Meet umbrella.

It also comes just days after Facebook announced Messenger Rooms, a video conferencing service that lets up to 50 people chat. Meanwhile, Zoom has quickly become a major player in video conferencing, while also working to fix big security problems on its service, as the coronavirus pandemic pushes more people to work and socialize from home.

Google says Meet has grown by a factor of 30 since January and is adding 3 million users daily. Last week, the total number of daily participants surpassed 100 million, according to Google.

“This has been a product that has experienced incredible growth,” Soltero said. “But it only has been available to a specific audience.”

The idea is to expand that audience to include all groups and individuals who may need video conferencing. Eventually, Meet will be the default for consumers, who previously had access to video chat via Google Hangouts, which will be phased out over time. The move would put Google’s video conferencing tools into one brand—a departure from what Google has done over the last 10 years.

In 2010, Google introduced Google Hangouts, which was initially developed as a feature for the company’s social network, Google+. Then in 2017, Google split its video conferencing products in two: Rolling out Hangouts Meet for corporate customers and Hangouts Chat for consumers. Then earlier this month, the company announced that it was rebranding Hangouts Meet to Google Meet, likely in preparation for the larger release announced Wednesday. 

For consumers, this means increasing the number of people who can chat at one time by 75 people as well as better audio and video, and access to what had previously been premium features. Consumers will be able to host video calls with no time limit until Sept. 30, at which point the limit will be an hour. For businesses and educational organizations, it means free access to video conferencing and G Suite tools, via a new package called G Suite Essentials, without a corporate account until Sept. 30.

Like Facebook, Google claims Google Meet will be secure, despite the two other companies Facebook and Google’s own former struggles with privacy. Because of its past history with corporations, Meet’s security has already been tested to a point.

Furthermore, uninvited guests on a call must be approved by the host before being allowed to participate. Additionally, all video meetings and recordings are encrypted, which helps prevent third parties from gaining access.

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