Technology plays a more important role than ever in our lives during the coronavirus pandemic, with Zoom quickly becoming the preferred video communications platform. But with the service mired in controversy, as hijackers flood calls with disturbing images, hijackers steal passwords and payment information, and calls are routed across China, millions of people may soon seek an alternative.
Fortunately, it seems that Beacon could be the light to guide us through this mess, with a new emphasis on privacy and security. Beacon seems to be the best of the best – with two-factor authentication, a password hint to keep you from choosing the one that was leaked to the dark web, and end-to-end encryption. less on paper.
What is Beacon?
Developed by Mass Luminosity, Beacon is teleconferencing software with pre-recording that will be available online on Friday, April 24, 2020 at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time (CST). It follows the same philosophy as Gaming Tribe (GTribe), a social media platform created by Mass Luminosity as an anti-Facebook to preserve the privacy and security of a user.
I sat down with Angel Munoz, founder and CEO of Mass Luminosity, to discuss Beacon's strong security and privacy claims, and how the service could change the teleconferencing landscape.
Let me begin by expressing my gratitude to VPNOnlineFree for the opportunity to discuss Beacon, a next generation private and secure videoconferencing and voice conference service for families, friends and colleagues.
How does Beacon manage encryption?
Beacon uses end-to-end encryption for all audio and video calls. Unlike Zoom or Skype, no intermediary server has access to audio or video – only the participants in the call have the decryption keys, which are updated for each new call and private conversation. We leverage existing technologies, some open source libraries, and web standards to manage encrypted communication.
Although Zoom claimed to have end-to-end encryption, it finally admitted that it did not use the universally accepted definition of the term after researchers discovered how encryption was actually managed. Beacon doesn't seem to use the popular Signal protocol that even Microsoft's Skype uses for its end-to-end encryption, but there is mutual respect for its impact.
The signal is the gold standard of confidentiality, and we have great respect for their team. However, the principles behind them are not very different from ours. Beacon wants to be private and secure, but also fun and simple to use.
Will Beacon be launched with security features, such as 2FA?
Yes. Beacon will offer two-factor TOTP (time-based unique password) authentication at launch and we plan to add support for hardware tokens soon after launch. To avoid situations such as what happened to Zoom, with the accounts and passwords of their users sold on the dark web, when registering for Beacon, a password will be verified against a database of known leaked passwords, and the person will be notified if the entered password is more likely to be compromised.
Finding a secure password is always important, which is why we guide people on how to strengthen their passwords and the best password managers who do everything for you. But none of this matters if a keylogger gets hold of your information and puts it on the dark web.
This has made two-factor authentication non-negotiable in recent years, as it prevents people from accessing your account without the correct hardware code or token. It is also good to see a dark web scanner detecting vulnerable passwords, so as not to mistakenly compromise your account.
Does Beacon keep newspapers?
Initially, Beacon will be accessible via a web browser, which means that certain data will have to be stored outside the user's device. Beacon will offer several levels of privacy, from the most relaxed, allowing you to invite others to join your ongoing conversations, to the strictest, where the conversation only exists when participants are present. We only store absolutely necessary information. Our rule of thumb is that if something doesn't appear on the screen, we don't store it.
It is always good to see a company actively avoid the culture of data collection. While Zoom has now placed the incredibly low bar in video and voice communication space, Beacon still has big shoes to fill if it hopes to be as secure and private as Signal, because Signal already refuses to collect metadata when it is possible. This is not to say that we are not hosting another truly private platform, but more cautiously optimistic.
Will Beacon have a self-hosted option?
We have Beacon Enterprise in the plan, which will run a private Beacon server on site, providing a higher level of privacy for large businesses.
It should be noted that Beacon will likely launch a closed source, which could be of concern to some privacy enthusiasts. But the ability to self-host completely removes the need for third-party servers, ensuring that you or your business have control, rather than having your data routed through oppressive countries.
Will Beacon be a free or premium service?
Beacon will be launched at no cost for personal use. The free plan will include Beacon's main communication features, such as private and group messaging, audio and video calls, and file sharing. Most of the advanced features, mainly intended for experienced users and businesses, will be available as part of a paid Beacon Pro plan, and later as part of the Beacon Enterprise version.
We're big fans of choice here at VPNOnlineFree, and it looks like Beacon is offering them a lot with free and paid Pro options. We will have to wait to see the value for money of the Pro or Enterprise plans, but the concept looks promising with different levels to suit each user.
What is the quality of Beacon's video and voice calls?
Beacon will apply the best possible compression on a given device, which can actually go both ways: it could do much better than Skype or Zoom and provide high definition video (if, for example, hardware encoding HEVC / VP9 is supported on the device) while using the same bandwidth as Skype or Zoom, or it can operate at roughly the same level, in which case H.264 / VP8 encoding will be used, accessible on most devices today. Either way, Beacon will natively seek higher resolution at the cost of greater bandwidth, unless the built-in Data Saver mode is enabled, in which case it will stay at a lower resolution.
Currently, Zoom excels in video and voice quality compared to the competition. If Beacon can achieve the same consistency, or better consistency, than its dubious rival, we could consider the new king of videoconferencing. But we can not say for sure before the launch of the service.
Should Beacon be considered as a replacement for Zoom, Skype, Discord, etc.?
Beacon will not be intended for a specific audience or demographic, and it is not intended to replace TeamSpeak or Discord. Beacon is a suitable alternative to Zoom and Skype for group calls of family and friends.
Before simplifying its name in GTribe and widening its horizon to become more accessible, Gaming Tribe had unsurprisingly the objective of focusing only on players. Its basic user base is still player-centric, but the platform has become more welcoming as it has grown, welcoming many people who wish to escape the data collection seen on Facebook, Twitter and other popular social networks.
Beacon is different in its intention, but will undoubtedly grow and develop in the same way.
What apps will be available at launch?
We firmly believe in the right of the user to choose how they access content, confining Beacon to a set of supported platforms would inevitably mean that someone will be excluded. This does not mean that there will be no Beacon applications, but their main objective will be to facilitate access to its features. We will initially launch a web version of Beacon, which runs on any device with a modern web browser. Allow the majority of people to access it easily.
Web applications are the most versatile and, therefore, make the most sense for early adoption – although some may be concerned with browsers as a delivery platform. While we don't know if dedicated apps are in the works, Mass Luminosity's other product, GTribe, was originally released only as a web product before the development of Android and iOS apps.
Quick introduction to Beacon
If you want to know more, watch the video above and don't forget to pre-register on April 24 at 1 p.m. CST. Access will initially be limited, with the selected candidates getting their hands on the application next month.