Maybe you won’t be physically together with family or friends this Thanksgiving, but you can still gather – virtually.

You could all eat dinner at the same time while connected on Zoom or on other video services. Instead of that traditional trip to the theater after dinner, you can hang out watching a movie or your favorite TV series online.

Many streaming services have created special ways to watch together, but you can strategize your own way to be connected and have a movie viewing.

You want to connect safely, making sure the apps you use to congregate don’t come with pitfalls.

“This Thanksgiving is going to be different than years past, but that does not mean we can’t feel connected to our loved ones,” said Kimberly Baumgarten, head of marketing and user experience for Houseparty, a video calling app that can connect eight accounts.

Amazon Watch Party
As many as 100 viewers can use Amazon Prime Video’s Watch Party on desktop browsers (Google Chrome or Firefox, no Safari). You can choose from thousands of movies and TV episodes from Amazon Prime Video.

A party leader selects that show and creates the “Watch Party” and then can share invites on Facebook or Twitter and via email. Other viewers must be Prime members, too. Once in the party, you can text to other viewers in the chat feature.

Music lovers could opt to watch “The Last Waltz,” the final concert by The Band, held on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26, 1976. Martin Scorsese directed the film, which included performances by Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Emmylou Harris and Neil Young.

If you are a creator on Twitch, the video game-centric streaming service owned by Amazon, you can host a massive online gathering and stream movies from the Amazon Prime Video library.

Disney+ GroupWatch
Want to see how much the Child (aka Baby Yoda) can eat? Up to six can binge-watch “The Mandalorian” – or any other movie or show on the streaming service – and fire emojis at each other.

On either a desktop browser or mobile app, select what you want to watch and click the GroupWatch icon. Click the Invite button, and you will get a link to send invites to others (they must have a Disney+ subscription). Once you have joined, you can watch on the big screen by starting up the streaming app, selecting the title and hitting GroupWatch and Join Stream.

Can’t decide on what to watch? Use the “Swipe With Friends” feature on the Reelgood app, which searches all the streaming services you and your friends have, to give you options on what to watch.

Other ways to teleconnect
If you want to gather to watch the same sports event on TV, movie or program on Netflix or on a movie disc – yes, some of us still play Blu-ray Discs and DVDs – there are multiple ways to do that. Zoom will drop its 40-minute session limit on Thanksgiving Day, so it’s a good choice and each person can connect on a mobile device or computer.

Other multitasking options to let you chat while watching TV or another screen include Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp.

Whatever method you use, it’s a good idea to do a test run so everyone is prepared to put your connectivity plan in action.

Houseparty will let you connect with eight others to chat or play games such as Uno or do karaoke. The app caught some flack this spring over reports that some sessions were hacked or hijacked – similar to Zoom-bombing reports months ago.

Houseparty appears to be secure, said Ross Rustici, global head of security architecture and threat intelligence at cybersecurity firm ZeroFOX. “While there are likely code flaws that can be exploited, there are no substantial, currently known vulnerabilities,” he said. “Should the app gain in popularity and usage, it is likely that hackers will pay more attention to it, but for now it is relatively safe.”

Another app, Teleparty (originally called Netflix Party), doesn’t get Rustici’s approval as it “appears to have some more troubling security issues,” he said. “Users, including members of the press, have reported the video content being swapped out midstream. Additionally, this app appears to be more prone to Zoom-bombing-style interruptions.”

“Having people surreptitiously join a chat is a well-known problem with apps that generate one-time use links, but the content interruption demonstrates a more disturbing weakness around administrative control of the content. I would not recommend Teleparty, especially if the household expects to have children use the program to watch content with friends or family.”

Some tips for safe video chatting
• Install apps from the official marketplace such as Apple’s App Store or Google Play store.

• Make sure your “Room” is private.

• Use a password on Zoom or any app that allows it.

• Make your chat private to friends only.

• Deny camera access if you aren’t video chatting but watching other content and chatting.

These tips are good advice for all collaborative apps that have become important connections during the coronavirus pandemic, said Mark Ostrowski of cybersecurity firm Check Point Software. “Understand how your online profile is being seen and used by each platform, limit permissions and set ‘room’ passwords shared only with intended guests,” he said.

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