‘Localizing data in every market would be really challenging’

NEW DELHI : Enterprise communications platform Zoom, which rose to limelight at the onset of covid, is set to add new features in a bid to rival Big Tech platforms such as Meta’s WhatsApp, Microsoft’s Teams and Google’s Meet, among others. In an interview, Josh Kallmer, head of global public policy and government relations at Zoom, spoke about the challenges of localizing data in multiple markets, the importance of enabling competitive markets, and India’s role in Zoom’s global operations. Edited excerpts:

Does Zoom localize user data in India? What are the challenges in doing so?

In India, as in many other countries, the government is in process of defining its relationship with technology. One of its key elements is data— where data stays, security, privacy and so on. India has multiple policy initiatives in this regard, but they are yet to address this issue. Our whole business relies on connecting people globally in a distributed way, which relies on data centers in India and in other places. The product works best when the data can flow freely and efficiently. This is why we have a general bias against data localization initiatives. But, we understand that governments around the world have reasons to propose and consider them, and that is why we engage with them regularly. The revised Bill has addressed this concern already, acknowledging the need to set-up trusted geographies. We already have two data centers in India — in Mumbai and Hyderabad — that we lease from providers. Given the government’s current approach of making a basic framework with trusted jurisdictions, the industry’s concerns have been taken into account for now.Is it feasible for a global platform to localize data in every market?

It would be a challenge. We understand the importance of having a globally distributed network with network nodes in certain places. But, principally, for a global product, localizing data in every market would be really challenging not just economically, but even technically—and hamper how smoothly such a product works today.What role does India play in Zoom’s global operations?

We don’t divide nation-wise revenue, but global markets (outside of the US) account for one-fourth of our total revenue, and India is a contributor of that. We also have an engineering operation, with two technology centres located in Bengaluru and Chennai. We plan to diversify our global engineering operations, and a part of this effort is to build products in India itself. These products are also being built for Zoom’s entire market across the world, including upcoming announcements that will be made this year itself.

We don’t have a total headcount to share at the moment, but we do plan to scale up engineering presence in India and expand.

Given that every geography has a different regulation in terms of data security, privacy and other policies, how does this affect product development for a global communications app?

Attempting to comply with and answer global governments on security questions that were raised in the early months of the pandemic is what led to transform our overall posture on safety and privacy.

One thing that contributes to such development is the relationship that governments share with tech companies, and the questions that are raised of us — such as in asking for user data from our platform, or answering about our product.

Answering this needed us to have a policy framework that recognise multiple legal systems and comply with local laws. Calling it a ‘one size fits all’ process might be a bit strong, but we do run a global platform, that is driven by the same analytical policy framework that is applied across governments and societies of users around the world. This gives us flexibility to adjust our product in line with the compliances that are required for being legally operational across global markets.

How does an independent company like Zoom stack up against services from Big Tech firms offering all-in-one communications services for consumers and businesses?

The key factor behind this is to be able to offer a unified communication platform, and have video, voice and text working together. This is key, irrespective of whether as a company, you’re working with enterprises, financial institutions or universities. Zoom has naturally evolved as a product, and voice calling is a natural piece of this evolution itself. We already offer a native text chat service that users can access on the app, as well as third-party email and calendar integration. Could we build our own suite of email and other services? Our thinking is very expansive about what we can be, that’s what I can tell about our product and engineering teams.

As for comparing with an everything-communications platform like WhatsApp, what’s important is to signal strengths within a product. Zoom has migrated from being a product to a platform, and through this migration, we are focused on our offerings to the enterprise market globally. It is important to make it natural for users to spend their time on a particular service.

Whether you talk about WhatsApp or any other Big Tech service, it’s important that policymakers ensure that there a level playing field economically, for independent companies to have the ability to compete based solely on the strength of innovation. This will enable us to address the massive, grown enterprise communications market with our products, and it is important that we continue to have an open, competitive environment that allows us to do that.

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