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15

Advocates and activists write open letter to Skype amongst privacy concerns

Microsoft's acquisition of Skype has caused many concerns over privacy and security

A rag-tag group of privacy advocates, internet activists, journalists and organizations have banded together and have written an open letter to Skype, calling on the communications giant to "publicly document Skype’s security and privacy practices."

The letter, which is addressed to Skype Division President Tony Bates, Microsoft Chief Privacy Officer Brendon Lynch, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith, says that the members of the group who authored it rely on Skype to communicate under circumstances where privacy and security are imperative and that it would be doing them a great service to know just what they can expect.

The authors have requested that Skype regularly release a Transparency Report that includes:

  1. Quantitative data regarding the release of Skype user information to third parties, disaggregated by the country of origin of the request, including the number of requests made by governments, the type of data requested, the proportion of requests with which it complied — and the basis for rejecting those requests it does not comply with.
  2. Specific details of all user data Microsoft and Skype currently collects, and retention policies.
  3. Skype’s best understanding of what user data third-parties, including network providers or potential malicious attackers, may be able to intercept or retain.
  4. Documentation regarding the current operational relationship between Skype with TOM Online in China and other third-party licensed users of Skype technology, including Skype’s understanding of the surveillance and censorship capabilities that users may be subject to as a result of using these alternatives.
  5. Skype's interpretation of its responsibilities under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), its policies related to the disclosure of call metadata in response to subpoenas and National Security Letters (NSLs), and more generally, the policies and guidelines for employees followed when Skype receives and responds to requests for user data from law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the United States and elsewhere.

This isn't the first time that privacy concerns have been raised since Microsoft purchased Skype back in May 2011. Just last summer, it was thought that Microsoft had made changes to Skype's network that would allow law enforcement agencies eavesdrop on conversations. Of course, Microsoft responded that that was not the case and that the changes were made to allow for cool new features for users. And with Skype set to become the center of communication across Microsoft's platforms, the concerns will likely continue.

The senders of the open letter, as well as everyone else who uses Skype, have every reason to want to be informed of just what level of privacy they should expect. No one is telling Microsoft what they can and cannot do, but simply asking them to lay it all out for their customers, so that they can then make an informed decision on whether or not to use the service.

With the internet and social media playing integral roles in everything from presidential elections to revolutions, these questions will continue to be raised. Let's hope we can count on the providers of these services to be honest with their users.

Source: SkypeOpenLetter.com; Via: Reddit

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Comments

There are 15 comments. Sign in to comment

PolishHitta says:

Wait are those activists worried about Skype alone? Or did we all forget security holes in Gmail and Android products?

Ninja1043 says:

You are missing the point. This isn't about Android or Google etc. And actually, Google does releases info regarding their search engine, subpoenas and government requests.

I'm no Google apologist by any stretch or imagination, but I see nothing wrong with a petition of this nature. Microsoft is certainly not obligated to respond, but it wouldn't hurt them either.

Regardless of service provider you use, we should not put companies on higher pedestals than other because "this is the one I like".

mikewp says:

No, you are missing the point or are extremely naive. I'll agree with the intent, but the intent should not just be for Skype/MS, it should be for every like service. Anything other than that and I am suspect of any ulterior motives.

Ninja1043 says:

Did you even read my post?? Let me rephrase it in case it hasn't hit you yet: "Regardless of service company you use, no one should be put in a higher value than others". This goes both ways, users and organizations.

Please, learn to read and separate your emotions from your writing. It would do all of us so much justice.

Tips_y says:

Your post would be nice if it actually applies to the letter in the above article. The letter at hand was written specifically to Skype and MS officials. It is not a "To Whom It May Concern" letter that could also apply to Google and others or to "Regardless of service company you use, no one should be put in a higher value than others", as you nicely put it. So pardon me if I too look in askance at this "group of privacy advocates" and their letter addressed only to Skype and Ms and to no other.

Eddie_Lomax says:

Yeah, exactly what I thought when I heard it.
Gmail already sifts through all your emails looking for information so that it can tailor its adverts to you, all of Googles products do that since they are an advertising company and don't sell software.
So while Microsoft has a good privacy policy (seems the best one I've seen so far since they are selling us the software and not giving it away for free, so their motive for profit is clear) we get an "open" letter to them, sort of like the "opensource" that creates such wonderful new standards like webkit that work only with Google products.
Ulterior motive - definitely, haters gonna hate, and this one reeks of fanboys that have hated MS for a longtime looking to bash Microsoft.

Sounds like a very reasonable request. If they don't agree to it, then I guess we can start lumping them with Google. Not on the same level obviously, but would push them in that direction.

Big Supes says:

I'm amazed there's still people out there that haven't heard of the corporate giant called Google! Crazy!!

cgold1 says:

Its crazy that all tech companies aren't required to make this information public already.

zacman says:

Fact is that Microsoft /Skype gave out private data to third parties in Belgium without any court order before.

Jammo says:

Why worry about the tool to communicate when it is the laws where they live that need to changed if they feel that oppressed.

mcvancouver says:

It matters a lot and Microsoft should go above and beyond what's requested here. My company switched to Skype years ago because of the encryption. Now I have no idea how secure my messages are. If someone comes out with a Skype with better privacy people will switch. Privacy is a huge huge issue. Especially developing countries. Microsoft would be very smart to hone in on that and provide extra privacy measures throughout their services.

Seth Brodeur says:

The Google point is kind of moot in relation to this open letter. This is a group of people who use Skype specifically and are concerned about the privacy/security.

Not to mention, according the letter's authors, Google already does what they are asking Skype to do:

Other companies, such as Google, Twitter and Sonic.net already release transparency reports detailing requests for user data by third parties twice a year.[9] We believe that this data is vital to help us help Skype’s most vulnerable users, who rely on your software for the privacy of their communications and, in some cases, their lives.

WebColin70 says:

I agree that MS/Skype should release this information, but let's be clear: Microsoft is a much, much, much greater defender of our privacy than Google. Not a surprise: Google's main revenue comes from reading through our mail and monitoring our Internet activity to target ads at us. Microsoft's primary source of revenue comes from making products that we want to buy.
 
The company that generates revenue by serving us is going to take better care of our privacy than the company that generates revenue by knowing as much about us as possible.