Skype has found themselves in a privacy PR nightmare as reports are slowly coming out that the online voice and video chat company may be cooperating with governing authorities to make private conversations more accessible. As those with privacy concerns fear that yet another communications company is selling out user privacy, Skype is quick to deny that anything is changing. They do acknowledge that they have made technical upgrades to the Skype systems, but are quick to assert that these upgrades have nothing to do with helping police spy on those who are possibly using Skype to discuss illegal activity.
The reports of Skype’s sudden cooperation with government authorities come after law enforcement has had concerns that Skype’s features, as well as its encryption, make tracking criminals too difficult. It seems that Skype is a hot bed of criminal activity because those who are looking to speak to one another without the worry of a tap know they can do so on Skype and get away with it. In fact, online forums for Jihadis advocate the use of Skype, and law enforcement has reported that when they are listening in on wiretaps on regular phones, they sometimes hear the suspects make plans to talk over Skype, rather than carrying on the conversation by phone.
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Privacy experts have suspected that, with Microsoft purchasing Skype, Skype’s policies would change to reflect a more government-compliant tone. Microsoft is well known for the comprehensive policies in place to cooperate with governmental requests from many different countries. Some feel that, now that Skype is owned by Microsoft, they will be expected to update their policies to reflect those of their parent company.
Skype has recently transferred its supernodes into Microsoft’s data centers, but Skype maintains that this is strictly for reasons of strengthening reliability, and not in any way related to changing reporting policies to law enforcement. Skype’s corporate vice president of product engineering and operations, Mark Gillett, insists that the changes are for no other reason than to improve user experience, “As part of our ongoing commitment to continually improve the Skype user experience, we developed supernodes which can be located on dedicated servers within secure datacenters. This has not changed the underlying nature of Skype’s peer-to-peer (P2P) architecture, in which supernodes simply allow users to find one another (calls do not pass through supernodes). We believe this approach has immediate performance, scalability and availability benefits for the hundreds of millions of users that make up the Skype community.”
Either way, there have not been any indications that user chat information would be used for anything other than legitimate legal inquiries by government authorities, so as long as you are using Skype to speak with remote coworkers, or to catch up with Grandma, you should be in the clear.
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