Skype is perhaps one of the most recognizable communication services presently available on the Web. With over 280 million users, it’s certainly growing. But, what about the terms and conditions. Does Microsoft have the ability to tap your VoIP calls?
ZDNet recently ran a piece describing Microsoft as a “big brother” to Skype users. Citing terms and conditions, it really does appear that Microsoft has the ability to listen in whenever it wants.
(n) Content of instant messaging communications, voicemails, and videomails
What may be concerning is that tell-tale broad clause in the policy that indicates the data being collected includes (but is not limited) to a list of various data points associated with a user’s account and activity. Of course Skype would keep record of messaging communications, voicemails, and videomails. It needs to have record of this data to deliver them to recipients.
Not only that, but Microsoft (and Skype) is required to adhere to a number of laws from various regions around the world pertaining to data retention. A court can subpoena your instant messages and require that phone service be tapped. It happens on regular phones, and it could very well happen on VOIP. Legal definitions are generally pretty broad that way.
So, does Microsoft have employees listening in on your video calls to your parents? Not likely. It’s possible Microsoft may be retaining the information and even keeping record of those calls for law enforcement and internal data mining. Your instant messages may even be considered the property of Microsoft/Skype as it’s a free service and it’s all considered to be data in a privately owned database.
Messages are generally stored by Skype for a maximum of between 30 and 90 days unless otherwise permitted or required by law.
Based on this clause, it isn’t terribly likely that Microsoft is building a giant database full of your messages dating back to the start of your account. This might be the case if law enforcement or local regulations require this information be retained for longer, but it wouldn’t appear (at least to my layman’s eyes) that these policies are outrageous or particularly nefarious.
What is rather concerning are earlier reports that Skype (and now Microsoft) don’t appear to be very forthcoming when asked whether or not they are able to (or actively are) listening in on voice calls. Your instant messages are being recorded (even in peer-to-peer sessions) so it stands to reason that this would be a concern to privacy conscious users.
Not everyone uses Skype to talk to their parents. There are political dissidents, refugees, and even some whistleblowers using Skype to communicate information in a way the bypasses traditional phone networks which are traditionally much easier to get a court order to access. Skype provides an element of anonymity, much like a burner phone would. You could access it from a new account set up in virtually any location without having to throw down your photo ID or submit to a credit check to do so.
Do you trust Skype to keep your private conversations private? Is Microsoft listening in on your conversations?
Woman With Headset Talking by Vera Kratochvil