Are private chats actually private in Zoom?

November 27, 2020

We've all had the experience of accidentally sending a message to everyone in a Zoom meeting when we meant to send it to just one person. Hopefully it was something benign, but I have heard some horror stories of criticism, romance, gossip and more ending up in front of a large, unintended audience. A pitfall unique to this medium!

And then there are rumors of hosts being able to read private chats sent between other members in the meeting transcript. Does this really happen?

In August of 2020, Zoom tweeted that "the host of the meeting does *not* receive private messages, even if they download the meeting log!" However, there is a general consensus (though I haven't seen proof) that this was not always the case.

Good news: I just tested it on my end and can confirm that when I, as host, download the chat log, all I see are my own chats (public and private), but not anyone else's private chats. However, every member can get a copy of their own meeting transcript...in which case, their own chat log would contain their own private chats. So if you are sharing a chat log with someone, just remember that it will include whatever you put in chat during that meeting.

Nevertheless, why take this risk at all? It's very easy to forget that you aren't still in your private chat...and accidentally send your profession of love to 70 colleagues.

My recommendation is to text--but not on your phone. Picking up your phone opens the floodgate to whatever other notifications may be on there, pulling your attention away from the meeting in progress.

Instead of using your phone, try using a browser-based text extension that connects to your phone, such as Google's Messages for Web, which gives you the ability to text from inside a web browser, which sends and receives texts to your phone. Most people type a lot more quickly on a keyboard than on a smartphone anyway. And this will give you an entirely separate environment where you can chat privately with another participant without having to worry about accidentally sending it to the whole meeting.

If you really want to get fancy, get a second monitor, position it vertically, and open your browser-based text app there. For me, this provides a psychological separation between what's happening on my main monitor and the conversations I'm having privately on chat. I use this all the time when doing tech support for clients. During a meeting, I have to communicate so quickly that it would be very anxiety-inducing to have to remember to only private chat in Zoom.

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