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Zoom could have far fewer users than previously reported

Zoom clarified its tally of 300 million participants counts users multiple times in some cases. The company also fixed a blog post that wrongly referred to participants as 'users.'

Zoom misstated how many people use its video conferencing platform in a blog post last week. The company also failed to correct the record when a previous disclosure led major news outlets to incorrectly report Zoom's user tally earlier in April.

Zoom said it had 300 million daily users in an April 22 blog post. But the company later revised the article to say that it had 300 million daily participants, not users. If one person joins two meetings in a day, Zoom counts that as two participants.

What's more, Zoom failed to clarify its remarks after major news outlets interpreted "participants" as "users" earlier this month. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Reuters were among the outlets that reported 200 million people used Zoom after the company said it had 200 million daily participants on April 1.

Zoom has not defined the term participants in its blog posts. The Verge and Business Insider on Wednesday were the first to report that the company misrepresented its user tally.

In a statement, Zoom said referring to participants as "users" and "people" in the April 22 blog post was "a genuine oversight." The company said it did not correct previous reports because news outlets write thousands of articles a day about the company. Therefore, it "could not issue corrections at that scale."

Zoom initially edited the April 22 blog post without noting that it had made a change. The company disclosed the revision days later in a footnote on April 29, the same day news outlets first caught on to the issue.

Because Zoom is counting individual users multiple times, significantly fewer than 300 million people could use the company's video service. The figure provides little insight into how many people use Zoom without the public knowing how many meetings per day the average person joins.

Even more confusing, the tally could also understate, as well as overstate, user figures in some cases. Zoom would count 10 people that join a meeting using a video device in a conference room as one participant.

Zoom's rapid growth has helped buoy the company's stock amid widespread criticism of its security and privacy practices. Zoom's share price dropped more than 7% on Thursday following the disclosure that its user tally is likely not as high as previously reported.

The debacle threatens to undermine Zoom's public trust. The company is already facing numerous class-action lawsuits for allegedly overstating how securely it encrypts video communications. The suits also accuse Zoom, among other things, of sharing data with Facebook without users' permission.

The revelations about Zoom's user accounting are good news for Microsoft, which makes the competing product Microsoft Teams. Zoom's tally of daily users is likely closer to Team's count than previously thought. Teams has 75 million daily active users, Microsoft said Wednesday.

However, Zoom comes out on top in the only apples-to-apples comparison with Microsoft that public observers can make. Microsoft said more than 200 million participants joined meetings on Teams in a single day in April. Microsoft defines participants the same way that Zoom defines them. By that metric, people conduct meetings in Zoom 50% more frequently.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella did not explain how the company tallied participants when he shared the figure during a conference call with investors on Wednesday. Instead, Microsoft released a blog post on Thursday that made the definition clear.

Meanwhile, Cisco, Zoom's largest rival, said 324 million people used Webex in March, up from 153 million in January.

Technology vendors are often reluctant to provide insight into how many people use their products. By disclosing participants instead of users, Zoom follows a familiar playbook: The figure provides some insight without giving away too much.

Metrics like those shared by Zoom are primarily useful in so far as they provide a benchmark for measuring growth. Zoom had 10 million daily participants in December. Notwithstanding whether the average person joins two or 10 meetings per day, we at least know that Zoom's usage grew by 2,900% through April.

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