Skype is a free communication program, that offers both text and video chat. It has over 663 million registered users, and purportedly logged over 115 billion minutes of video call last quarter alone. It’s a huge and very successful venture, and set Microsoft back well-over $8billion when it acquired the company in 2011. However, some groups have voiced concerns over Skype’s encryption measures and general security, asking just what it is that Skype does with the vast amounts of private data it gathers.
Skype have strongly denied allegations that it freely shares data with law enforcement and national security officials. Officially, such organisations must first seek a warrant before being permitted access to an individual’s private data online. Mark Gillett, the chief development and communications officer for Skype, stated that the company would release private data to law enforcement only if the entity “follows the appropriate procedures.”
Skype also released a press-statement saying that it “co-operates with law enforcement agencies as much as is legally and technically possible.”
The move has been heavily criticised, though some supporters of the company point out that it’s not universally the fault of Skype or Microsoft. In the post 9/11 world, technology agencies have come under increasing pressure from law enforcement to monitor for terrorist activity. Additionally, Microsoft has previously cooperated successfully with law enforcement officials when tackling hackers and, particularly, botnets. In dealing with these growing threats, Microsoft might argue, communication between themselves and policing agencies is vital in providing a threat-free service.
This has not stopped critics protesting at what they perceive as privacy breaches. However, whoever is in-the-wrong in this situation is unlikely to greatly affect Skype’s vast user base. Skype continues to claim that it does not routinely monitor conversations and, in some ways, this claim is the most logical. Given the 663 million registered users, it would be an overwhelmingly expensive and technologically demanding feat to spy on every one of them, even with relevant technology. While privacy on the internet is an incredibly important issue, it would seem that claims of routine surveillance are, at best, thinly founded.