Webinar Webcam Weirdness: Video Showing While Disabled

Dear readers, I need your help. I have an exceptionally rare webcam bug that vendors can’t reproduce. I need to collect evidence – even anecdotal – that it’s real.

The symptom is that even though webcam video is turned off in the meeting, one or two people still see the streaming video of presenters while the rest of the participants see nothing.

This is clearly impossible. Yet it has now happened to me on two different webinar platforms in completely different scenarios.

Mind you, that is twice out of many hundreds of webinars and many thousands of participants. And it has affected maybe four or five people in total. That’s a vanishingly low occurrence rate. Of course the vendors can’t reproduce it when I report it. So they can’t diagnose it and can’t fix it. Indeed, they are quick to assume it is user error. But it isn’t.

The first time I had the situation occur was in a Webex Meeting. We had lots of participants. We had disabled the meeting option to “allow participants to turn on video.” I was logged in on one computer as host and on another computer as a standard meeting participant. On both computers, the webcam video display area showed no streaming video for any participants. But a participant wrote to tell me that he saw camera feeds for himself and a few other participants who did not seem to realize they were broadcasting. He sent me a screenshot to prove it. I had a screenshot from my computer showing those same people without video feeds. Webex tech support filed it as an open incident and said they couldn’t do anything about it unless it happened again.

Today I was on a GoToWebinar webinar. I opened the conference for panelists and we chatted with each other with webcams enabled. I had not started the active broadcast, so early attendees could not see us or hear us. I confirmed this on a second computer logged in as an attendee, which properly showed all webcam feeds blacked out. When I started the active broadcast mode, two attendees informed me they had been able to see our cameras for the entire 30-minute prep period, although they could not hear us. When I asked the audience about this, everyone else said they had not been able to see our video during the prep.

Once again, GoToWebinar is unable to reproduce the problem. Although a tech rep said he was able to find one other similar report from half a year ago, which they wrote off as probable user error.

I am careful to log in as an attendee so I can verify what my audience is seeing whenever I host a webinar. But if everything looks good on my computer, how do I know some attendees are seeing something else? They may not even know it’s unintended and that it represents a problem. I am ignorant that anything is amiss until and unless a participant writes to me.

Having people show up on camera when they think they are safely hidden is a recipe for disaster. If the host can’t see it is happening, it’s even worse. If you have ever been involved with a similar occurrence on any webinar software, could you please write a comment or send me an email? The first step in solving these issues is proving they exist.

Thank you!