The Meet service has, until now, been offered as part of the company's G-Suite services that businesses and schools pay for. However, Google has now started rolling it out gradually to everyone with a personal or business Google account.

"We really see a need for something which is very secure, very easy to use, and very reliable," said Smita Hashim, Google's head of product, adding that the protections currently used for Meet will keep consumers safe.

Google Meet includes AI-powered features including live automatic captions.

"In enterprises, for example, it's only the in-domain users who are trusted. And for consumers, it will only be the users in the Google Calendar [event] who will be able to enter the meeting, everyone else will have to knock and enter."

Individual users will be able to host chats with up to 100 participants, with no enforced time limit between now and September, in web browsers or via the Meet smartphone app.

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Meet has already seen daily use increase 30 times since January and is currently attracting around 3 million new users a day. Ms Hashim said features, including encryption, complex meeting codes and never allowing anonymous guests, has kept things secure, but the public rollout will nevertheless be conducted "carefully" over a few weeks.

"We were designed in the cloud, we were designed for remote working, but that's now really being put to the test," she said.

While Google and Facebook have the benefit of learning from Zoom's public crises, the security of their own services will face serious scrutiny if widely adopted.

Facebook's Rooms allows groups to open their calls so anyone can join using a web link, even if they don't have a Facebook account. But taking advantage of that feature would likely open meetings up to the kind of issues highlighted by so-called "Zoom bombing".

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Users will also be required to fine-tune their privacy settings to decide who the room would be open to, or whether it will appear on their friends' social media feeds. Facebook and Google have recently faced several challenges related to data privacy, which could act as a deterrent to potential users.

Both companies say audio and video data from the calls will not be used to send targeted ads.

Tim is the editor of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald technology sections.

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Google races to replace Zoom as live video app of choice - The Age

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