Hundreds of students from at least 90 secondary schools are planning a protest this week against the use of videoconferencing platform Zoom for online lessons, citing privacy concerns.
They intend to turn off the webcam function during live-streamed lessons and change their profile pictures to show slogans opposing Zoom, according to the student activist group Hong Kong Secondary Schools Student Strike Platform.
The group, which organised citywide class strikes during the months of anti-government protests last year, has been promoting the “non-cooperation action” on social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Telegram.
Zoom allows teachers to conduct live lessons with students signed on from home, and the webcam function allows classmates to see each other and their teacher.
The app became popular for schools and universities after they were closed in February to slow the spread of Covid-19. More than 900,000 Hong Kong students, from kindergarten to secondary level, have been staying home.
Taiwan, India and Germany are among the places that have restricted the use of Zoom because of issues such as “Zoombombing”, when uninvited guests hijack online sessions, as well as security concerns over possible data leaks and the routing of some traffic through mainland China.
In Singapore, Zoom was banned temporarily in schools after hackers hijacked an online lesson and showed obscene pictures to students. New security measures were put in place before schools were allowed to resume using the app last week.
The Hong Kong protest group’s spokesman, Issac Cheng Ka-long, said the call was for Zoom to be banned because many secondary students were concerned that their personal details might be leaked to a third party.
In an online poll of 14,000 secondary students this month, the group found that four out of five had been using Zoom for online learning, and 79 per cent opposed its use because of concerns over data leaks and “Zoombombing”.
There have been calls for restrictions after at least two Hong Kong schools were victims of “Zoombombing” earlier this month, when hackers invaded teaching sessions to share obscene material.
Cheng, 20, a core member of the protest group, called for schools to abandon Zoom. “Schools have been given flexibility to choose their own platforms for online learning, I believe it is up to the schools to make the move,” he said.
Carson Tsang Long-hin, 16, a Form Five student of PLK Vicwood KT Chong Sixth Form College and a spokesman of Ideologist, a student group helping to plan this week’s protest, expected dozens of his schoolmates to participate.
“An ideal software should protect students’ personal information,” Tsang said. “I believe our school will hear our voice and make some changes.”
He said asking students to switch off their webcams and change their profile photos was a relatively mild protest, but it was a first step.
Responding to queries from the Post, the school in Tai Kok Tsui said its teachers were free to pick their preferred platforms for online lessons and would keep an eye on cybersecurity.
Four other secondary schools, whose students said they intended to join in the protest, did not reply to questions from the Post.
The Education Bureau said schools had been reminded to step up security while using Zoom, although they were free to choose other suitable platforms for online classes.
The principal of a secondary school using Zoom as its major platform for online learning, said it was open to exploring alternatives and he had also asked its IT team to improve security.
The school head – who asked to remain anonymous – said he knew that other secondary schools, where parents had expressed worries over Zoom, were also looking for ways to address the security issues.
Francis Fong Po-kiu, honorary chairman of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, suggested that schools explore alternatives such as Google Hangouts Meet or Microsoft Teams, and some schools are believed to have already made the switch.
But Fong said Zoom could still be used by schools, provided the security features were enhanced. This could be done by adding logon passwords and identifying participants before classes. The platform had also fixed some bugs, he noted.
“Zoom has its advantages, as it is free for schools to use,” he said.
He advised users to avoid discussing confidential matters during Zoom meetings, but added: “For teaching purposes I believe it is still okay.”