Better than Zoom and Google Meet: Try these Free Software powered video conferencing apps and services
We recommend you to use free software powered video conferencing software like Jitsi and BigBlueButton. Since they are free software, the software is under user's control, and they give the user the freedom to run their own server which gives users full control over their communications.
It is entirely possible to run large conferences online using free software. The FSF hosted its annual LibrePlanet 2020 and the FSF 35th anniversary event entirely online using free software and RYF hardware. The LibrePlanet conference has been live streamed to a worldwide audience since 2014. FOSDEM 2021 was hosted online to an audience of over 30K exclusively using free software.
Problems with proprietary videoconferencing systems
In the pandemic time, our communications are being held via nonfree video conferencing software like Zoom, Google Meet etc.1 Hosting video conferencing via nonfree software gives away control of our communications.
Video communications on Zoom are done via Zoom's central server which mistreats users in various ways such as snooping on users and shutting down accounts of activists. Zoom also censored an event with Palestinian activist Leila Khaled and other events criticizing its censorship. A Zoom executive reported on users to China, and snooped on meetings. If they discussed the Tien An Men Square massacre, he terminated the meetings and the participants' accounts, on the orders of China. What made it possible is that Zoom's design lets staff snoop on every conversation as it passes through the server. Further, Zoom has done a lousy job in protecting your privacy.
Surveillance and censorship are the consequences of the power Zoom has over its users because of its nonfree software and centralized server. It is Zoom's unjust power over their users that we oppose. This power bring users at the mercy of the entity (Zoom in this case) providing the service. The same is true for other nonfree conferencing systems like Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Skype, etc.
Nonfree programs should never be trusted for privacy even if they say that the communications are end-to-end encrypted. It could send the unencrypted version to the owner of the software when asked, bypassing the encryption. A company that sold encryption systems to 100 countries was controlled by US and German intelligence, and the equipment spied on the governments that used it which means that you should never trust a proprietary encryption program to protect your privacy . Therefore, we suggest you to reject any nonfree/proprietary software.
How can free software powered video-conferencing systems solve the problem?
If the users communicate using free software installed in a server controlled by the users or a server run by a trusted service provider, they get full control over their communications. This gives them control over the policies of the service and data collection. With Free Software like Jitsi and BigBlueButton, you have a choice of service providers, and you are not forced to host your video meetings on any particular server, say, Jitsi's central server. You can also host the service in countries with better Free Speech laws instead of forced to follow only Chinese law, in case of Zoom. This is like dissenters taking refuge in other countries to avoid persecution by oppressive governments.
Jitsi instances usually have maximum capacity of 70 participants at a time. A list of Jitsi instances can be found at https://jitsi.github.io/handbook/docs/community/community-instances and a list of BigBlueButton instances can be found at https://wiki.chatons.org/doku.php/la_visio-conference_avec_big_blue_button. We did not try all the instances listed in these links, this is just a list for users to try different instances. We suggest you to read the policies of the servers before hosting your communications there.
Autistici's Jitsi instance https://vc.autistici.org/ supports recording without using Dropbox or any other nonfree software service (other Jitsi instances usually require a Dropbox account) and live-stream without using YouTube (other services usually support live-streaming with YouTube only) on their own server. To record your meeting on Autsitici's server, you can click 'Start Recording' when you want to start and after 'Stop Recording', you will be sent a link in the Jitsi chat, and you can download the recording in your device.
Jitsi instances like 8x8.vc has an Indian dial in (not toll-free but a number in Mumbai) number to join the audio conference. So people with unlimited talk time but not a good internet connection can also join these.
tube.tchncs.de and other PeerTube instances that support live-streaming can be another option. joinpeertube.org/instances has a list of PeerTube instances and you can filter the list by choosing 'Video maker' profile and 'Yes' to 'And do live streams' option. Apps like NewPipe and Fedilab support watching PeerTube videos and live streams. OBS can be used to stream classes live.
BigBlueButton instances generally have more capacity than Jitsi instances and instances like meet.nixnet.services can scale up to 270+. Mixed approach of live-streaming and using separate text chat for questions can increase the limits. BigBlueButton supports white board, presentations, live-streaming on YouTube. We suggest you to avoid live-stream on YouTube. BigBlueButton doesn't need any app on mobiles to work, people can simply join via any web browser. Chiguru also runs a BigBlueButton server especially for online classes and includes paid plans according to your needs.
Conferences conducted using only free software
In the pandemic time, we also saw the successful organization of conferences using only free software. FSCI and Free Software Foundation of India conducted the Free Software Camp entirely using Big Blue Button. Conferences DebConf and MiniDebConf Online India 2021 were also held using Jitsi and Vogol for live-streaming the conference and Etherpad + IRC chat were used by the audience to ask questions. The Free Software Foundation conducted their 2020 annual LibrePlanet conference online without the use of any nonfree/proprietary software. The FOSDEM 2021 conference was conducted using only free software which hosted 30,000 attendees which shows that there is absolutely no reason that any online conference should require proprietary softwareα. Any organization seeking to run a conference can either hire their own people, hire some of the people who organized FOSDEM to deploy the technology for you. If they can host their conference using only free software, other organizations can do it too.
Educational Institutes should switch to free software
Educational institutes all over the world are conducting lectures/webinars via nonfree software. We suggest educational institutes to adopt free software alternatives like Jitsi, BigBlueButton and avoid nonfree software for lectures and conferences. Conferences can be held using only free software similar to the above mentioned conferences. Educational institutes have a responsibility towards their students and teachers to respect their freedom and privacy. Students should not be forced to give away their freedom and privacy to attend lectures, webinars to build their career.
If you are from an educational institute, and need help in switching to free software services which respect your freedom, we will be glad to help you. Please do not hesitate to contact us in this regard.
Ways in which students can resist
To show rejection of nonfree software, students can resist in various ways. Students can get in touch with each other and send collective letters to teachers or their administration to create awareness about the problems that proprietary software poses. To raise awareness, they can share this article. They can ask their teachers to make recordings from the Zoom calls and post the recordings where they can download them later. We suggest free software like upload.disroot.org or PeerTube for sharing video lectures. Or else ask teachers to post the pertinent visual materials so that students can get them before the class, and they can record the audio themselves. That way they can attend the classes without running any nonfree program.
Students can also set up kludges to avoid running nonfree video chat programs. For instance, the teacher (or one student) could point a camera at a screen showing the Zoom call, and stream that camera and mic to the students who want to stay off Zoom. There can also be a kludge for them to speak and send their voice to the Zoom call.
How to start and join a meeting via Jitsi and BigBlueButton?
Find a Jitsi service that suits your needs and create a room with a random name or a name that you can remember. Share the meeting link with attendees. Joining a Jitsi meeting is as easy as clicking a link and loading it in your browser(Recent versions of Chromium and Firefox) or Android or iOS Jitsi Meet apps and does not require creating any accounts. Jitsi meetings can also be password protected so that only invited attendees can join.
Find a BigBlueButton instance that suits your needs and sign up for an account. Once you are logged in, you can create rooms and share the links with attendees. Joining a BigBlueButton meeting is as easy as clicking a link and loading it in your browser (Recent versions of Chromium and Firefox) either on your laptop/desktop or on your mobile.
Need help? Contact us
If you would like to switch to free software powered services like Jitsi and BigBlueButton, and you need help in this matter, feel free to contact us at fsf.org.in/contact. We would be very glad to help you.
Members of UK parliament were forced to use Zoom in order to vote.
Americans are getting evicted because they could not attend a court hearing carried out via Zoom.
Zoom plans to block and suspend users based on their location. This practice is both surveillance and censorship. It also shows how ready the company is to comply with Chinese orders in violating basic human rights.
Government schools in Delhi are imposing proprietary software Zoom on students for attending lectures.
α. The article uses the term 'FOSS' which stands for 'Free and Open-Source Software' which we avoid because we stand for freedom and therefore prefer 'free software' over 'FOSS'.