Trivia over video call, graduation ceremonies through the lens of a webcam, happy hour from your own kitchen table while you stare at a screen—all of these, combined, sound like a fever dream, but it’s reality during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of them aren’t so familiar, though. There’s Skype, but it’s not exactly in style, and Zoom, but it has a whole hoard of security issues. There’s another major platform called Google Meet (previously called Google Hangouts Meet), which basically didn’t exist before the outbreak, except as a corporate video conferencing tool for companies using Google’s paid suite of software.

But now, anyone can use Google Meet, and here’s what you should know.

Where Can I Download?

Whether you prefer to video chat on mobile, or on your laptop, you can use Google Meet. It’s available for free on the App Store for iOS devices, as well as the Google Play market. To use the web app, click here. The premium service (which lets you add more users and record calls) is free for everyone until September 30, and after that will cost $6 per month.

In a confusing twist, this is not Google’s first video app. It also offers Duo, which is more analogous to a Facetime call than a Zoom meeting. Still, it’s not always clear when you should jump to using Google Meet, rather than Duo—you’ll definitely need Meet for calls with multiple people (it supports calls with two to 250 people), but you could use either for a one-on-one cocktail hour.

How Do I Join a Meeting?

If you already have a Gmail account, simply head to and either click the green “Start a Meeting” button or enter a Meeting ID in the field to the right. And that’s really it! As long as you’re signed into your Gmail account, you can automatically start or join a meeting.

Otherwise, you will need to make a Gmail account to use the service (don’t worry, that’s free, too).

Is It Safe To Use?

According to Google’s support page for Meet, all meetings are encrypted by default in the web app—for both the Android and iOS apps. If you or another person in your meeting decide to record the session, it’s stored in Google Drive and also encrypted. However, keep in mind that if you’re joining a meeting by dialing in on a phone, the audio goes through your telephone network provider and may not be encrypted.

In terms of data, Google says that Meet “adheres to the same robust privacy commitments and data protections as the rest of Google Cloud’s enterprise services.” In practice, that means customers own their own data, and not Google; that Google does not use that data for advertising, nor does it sell the Google Meet data to third parties; that the service does not have user attention-tracking features or software; and that you can set your own retention policies for your Meet recordings.

Considering instances of “Zoomboming” and Zoom hacks are on the rise, anti-abuse measures are key for video conferencing. Google says it uses anti-hijacking controls for both web and video meetings, as well as telephone dial-ins. These include the use of 10-character meeting codes, with 25 different possible characters, which makes it harder for bad actors to guess meeting ID codes.

When you join a meeting, the following restrictions apply:

  • External participants can join directly, only if they are on the calendar invite or if they’ve been invited by in-domain participants from within the Meet session.
  • Any other external participants must request to join the meeting, which must be accepted by a member of the host organization.
  • Google limits the ability of external participants to join the meeting more than 15 minutes in advance.
  • In-domain participants can remove attendees from a meeting.

For telephone dial-ins, PINs are generally nine or more digits—again, to make it harder for hackers to guess them—and phone number and PIN combinations are invalid outside the scheduled meeting time.

Add-Ons To Try

Just like Zoom, Google Meet lets you experiment with some customization, but it goes beyond quirky backgrounds. Just as the Google Chrome web browser has a whole store full of extensions you can try out, Meet has a whole host of its own extensions. Just keep in mind that these are only for the web app in Chrome, and won’t work on mobile.

Some of the most useful ones include Meet Mute, which lets you experiment with how the Mute button appears in the web app. You can program any key to serve as the mute button, which is great in a pinch if you need to mute and unmute your microphone often throughout the course of a meeting. Alternately, if you’re often just a fly on the wall, you can take things a step further with Google Meet Push To Talk, which sets your mic to mute by default each time you launch a meeting.

Probably the easiest thing to do, though, is download the Google Meet Enhancement Suite, which gives you access to Push To Talk and then some. Options also include auto-captioning, auto-joining for calls, and a quick leave function that you can use by pressing Shift + K.