Exclusive: Taiwan's Powercall targets videoconferencing space as Zoom worries loom

Two months after Powercall's launch, Skype adds a web-based video call service that also waives the need to sign up

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Powercall founder Howie Young talks to Taiwan News reporter on the video meeting platform. 

Powercall founder Howie Young talks to Taiwan News reporter on the video meeting platform.  (Taiwan News photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — People using popular videoconferencing tool Zoom, which routes some of its traffic through China, have recently been warned of privacy risks and are seeking safer alternatives. Taiwan-based Powercall is one of them.

Powercall — a browser-based service already embraced by people from over 130 countries since its launch in late February — waives sign-up requirements and does not even need to be downloaded.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen around the world, companies of all sizes are opting for free videoconferencing as they work from home. Many have flocked to Zoom.

However, its Chinese-born American founder admitted to having mistakenly routed calls through China, prompting many companies and governmental departments to bar employees from using the platform out of security concerns, including in Taiwan.

Meanwhile, a new videoconferencing tool has just begun to take off worldwide, rapidly accumulating popularity with users from over 130 countries since its late February launch. As there is no need to sign up, exposure to identity theft is reduced.

Howie Young (楊皓宇), 29, is a serial entrepreneur who founded an instant messaging platform Toetoe in 2013 before graduating from National Taiwan University Business Administration. He established a co-working space "Workis (工作是)" in 2014 and another company, Tico, in 2017.

Based in Taipei, Tico’s small and efficient team built up Powercall from scratch in just two weeks. It created what they intend to be a high-quality, safe, and easy-to-use free tool for these difficult times.

"We are a three-person team: two Taiwanese, one French. When the outbreak began in January, we expected a significant demand for videoconferencing in the following months," Young told Taiwan News, via his own videoconferencing software. "The team only met remotely while building the platform and have continually optimized for user experience since our Feb. 26 launch."

As Powercall is web-based, people do not need to download the app on mobile devices or desktop computers. Since there is no registration, personal information such as email addresses and locations remain undisclosed.

All they have to do is to visit the website — which functions on nearly any browser except Microsoft Internet Explorer — and create a chatroom ID. The more complicated and random the chatroom ID, the safer the conversation, as Powercall’s chatroom IDs are non-proprietary.

To start a video conference from scratch on Powercall took this reporter literally less than 10 seconds. Users can create a chatroom ID, copy the unique hyperlink, and invite others to join a video conference by sharing the link or ID.

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People invited to the video conference can simply click through the link or enter the given ID on tico.chat/powercall — all without registration. Each chatroom can accommodate a maximum of 12 participants and, at the moment, can enjoy up to 120 minutes of call time.

"Powercall does not collect your personal information and your secret chat is not being stored on any server. Chats are end-to-end encrypted, and the history is cleared," Young added.

"We are far from perfect, but the team is continuing to improve the user experience by improving security and stability, and we will soon be adding a password feature for chatrooms."

Powercall has received tremendous attention in technical forums and is being recommended by tech bloggers, including recommendations from LinkedIn Paris users and a Japanese podcaster. The start-up has also been mentioned as one of the top videoconferencing tools by Hackernoon and was twice voted among the Top 10 software on Product Hunt.

Two months after Powercall's launch, Skype seems to be following suit, with a new web-based video call service that also waives the need to sign up. The American tech giant announced on April 3 the addition of a URL-based videoconferencing service called Meet Now to their existing platform. Like Taiwan's Powercall, users are not required to log in or download the app.

If you take a closer look at Tico's Powercall, you will be intrigued by its copyright notice, which reads "Tico Co., Ltd. Made with ❤ in lovely Taiwan." It reflects the company's long-term efforts to promote the island country internationally.

"Taiwan's tech products and services have today gained a strong foothold in the global market. I am proud of my country and want to let the world know that Taiwan can do so many good things to help people worldwide," Young explained.

He also places a cute comic character at the bottom of each chat room who speaks reassuring lines in different languages, such as, "Bon courage," "Hang in there," and "Keep calm" — a small but heartwarming touch to cheer people up in tough times.