In a bid to ramp up the competition for Zoom, Google announced on Wednesday, April 30 that all users will be able to host free video conferences on its business videoconferencing service Google Meet for free.
Until now, the premium videoconferencing tool from Google was only available for paid subscribers of Google's G Suite business accounts.
Google's answer to Zoom
The move will turn the previously business-only tool into a bigger rival to videoconferencing services like Zoom, Microsoft's Skype, and Facebook's Messenger. These services have already introduced features to attract users as people begin to rely on videoconferencing to not just stay connected with their family and friends, but also to get employees to work-from-home. Teachers and students participate in online classes due to self-quarantine and lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Meet will be available "to all users around the world, to enable people from all walks of life to communicate, collaborate and really stay in touch more effectively through the pandemic", G Suite VP Javier Soltaro said.
Free Google Meet from May 4
Users who are looking for a free alternative to Zoom or Skype for video calling, whether it is for work-related meetings or just connecting with family and friends, will be able to sign up on Google Meet for free from May 4 onwards.
Google Meet features
Just like on Zoom, they will be able to invite up to 100 people to join a meeting. However, there will be a call limit of one hour, though the time limit won't actually be enforced until at least the end of September, when hopefully the coronavirus pandemic will end.
Users will be able to create, schedule and join meetings using the Google Meet website, as well as on the mobile app on Android and iOS. They can also schedule a meeting by using Google Calendar by clicking any time slot and entering the details.
Although Google has provided free videoconferencing for almost 12 years via its other video calling services Google Hangouts, and Google Duo, the former features outdated security and technology, while the latter is accessible only on smartphones.
Google Meet is more secure and reliable
Meet is a reliable substitute for Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp. Google has taken a lot of pains to give users reasons for picking its service. With Google Meet, the Mountain View, California, based search giant places its bets on the security and reliability features and its cloud computing.
"As COVID has impacted everyone's lives, we felt there was a reason to bring something built for businesses first to everyone. It is a more secure, reliable, modern product," Smita Hashim, Director of Product Management at Google, said in an interview.
Calls made through Google Meet pass through Google's severs, enabling it to provide automatic captions and real-time transcription, troubleshoot issues and comply with legal orders to share user data. However users' calls will not be stored and businesses and schools will have exclusive access to recoding meetings and other options.
Despite increasing numbers of users joining Zoom, the videoconferencing service has been struggling to stem security problems such as data hacking and harassment by individuals who crash into Zoom meetings and display objectionable and pornographic content in an offence that has come to be referred to as "Zoombombing."
With Google Meet, Google aims to deter any such bad behaviour by requiring all participants of the consumer version of Meet to sign in with a verified Google account unlike other popular videoconferencing services which do not require an account to sign in.The names of the participants and their profile pictures will be visible in the calls, but their email ids will not be shared.
No ads on Google Meet
Google normally generates revenue from its free services by placing targeted ads within them or by collecting data based on user behaviour and browsing history to personalize ads. However, this won't be the case with Meet, according to Hashim.
Google's cloud services unit, which developed Google Meet, does not use any consumer data for advertising or share it with any third parties even if the service is free.
However, Meet will cut free calls after an hour from October 1 onwards, compared to NO TIME limits on the recently launched Facebook Messenger Rooms and Skye and a 40-minute restriction on Zoom for consumer accounts.