How secure is online teaching with BigBlueButton?

Which video conferencing tools are suitable for digital substitute teaching? There is still a great deal of uncertainty about this. Popular providers such as the Zoom video conferencing service have been criticized. Currently, the BigBlueButton® program is being recommended in some German states as a practical and privacy-compliant alternative. We introduce the tool and explain why it is only suitable for use in schools with the right settings.

BigBlueButton is an open source program for video telephony. The source code of the software is freely available and can be used by anyone and everyone. In this respect, it is similar to the video telephony program Jitsi Meet, which we have already presented. In addition to video and audio conferencing, BigBlueButton offers many additional functions relevant to teaching, such as a virtual whiteboard. Up to 100 people can take part in digital lessons with BigBlueButton. A practical feature is that it is integrated with online learning environments such as Moodle. So if a school uses Moodle, it makes sense to use BigBlueButton as a virtual classroom.

However, BigBlueButton is not a service that you can just use out of the box, such as Skype or Zoom. It is a program that is set up on a server and must be individually configured to enable teaching via video chat. The advantage of this is that all the data generated is processed only on the school's server or the server of the service provider it has contracted. If configured correctly , the program sends all data in transport-encrypted form. If attackers should intercept data, it is protected from misuse by the encryption. BigBlueButton is therefore preferable to commercial services from a data protection perspective.

Secure, but only with the right settings

When using BigBlueButton, there are important aspects that should definitely be taken into account:

  • The servers on which the service is set up should be located in Germany or the EU.
  • If an IT service provider is commissioned to set up BigBlueButton, a data protection agreement must be concluded with this company before students can use BigBlueButton. Contract for order processing must be concluded with this company before students and teachers are allowed to use the service.
  • It is imperative that consent forms are obtained for teaching via video chat. Consent forms specially tailored for BigBlueButton Templates can be found here. It should be noted that these consents must be voluntary according to the General Data Protection Regulation. The person who does not consent must not suffer any disadvantages as a result.
  • BigBlueButton offers a recording function that should be viewed very critically. Anyone who sets up the program must manually turn off this recording function, otherwise the program will record all video chats and store them for up to two weeks. It is not enough not to press the record button, as the program will still create a recording in the background. It is imperative that participants are informed that recordings are taking place and actively consent to them. Depending on the age of the students, consent must be obtained from their parents or guardians. For this reason, the recording function should generally be deactivated and BigBlueButtonshould beconfigured so that automatic recordings are deleted immediately after the end of the video conference.

If you would like to test BigBlueButton first, you can do so with mustardcall do so. The service is operated via German servers and does not store any data. For legal reasons, senfcall is not suitable for teaching. 

Further information