Skype has been accused of eavesdropping on its users.
The popular Voice over IP (VoIP) and chat service provider Skype, which Microsoft acquired last year, has disclaimed accusations that it has been listening in on users through its VoIP traffic.
Upon acquisition, Microsoft filed a US patent application, entitled Legal Intercept, allowing a scheme for discreetly interfering user conversations through VoIP traffic. Skype has strongly refuted that it has altered its policies despite the software giant’s procurement of the firm, and supposedly allowing it to follow the patent’s terms.
Mark Gillett, chief operating officer of Skype, clarified that the company has not altered its structural design with Microsoft’s demands, but rather admitted that all of Skype’s “supernodes” or key infrastructure nodes, have been transferred to Microsoft datacenters, and basically act as service discovery ‘oracle’ nodes without carrying voice or video data.
Meanwhile, with the current issues involving inquisitive requests from law enforcement agencies, Gillett has also refuted that Skype had changed its policies but rather passed it onto its legal response team, who have been addressing to these demands.
Gillett also noted that having a few well-provisioned supernodes performing as service discovery oracles or a central information repository, is somewhat reasonable as it can effortlessly improve operations, considering the fact that bootstrapping peer-to-peer networks is a significant challenge.
Gillett has explained that Skype still reads Skype-to-Skype conversations and from the firm’s own perspective, getting its users to convey the considerable volume of VoIP and video data it transfers allows the firm to return huge amount of savings.
On the other hand, Gillett failed to mention and elaborate the issue on how its parent company’s, Microsoft, patent could theoretically be used to direct communications through a node that may serve as a peeping agent.
Considering the fact that these supernodes act as discovery oracles, it is not hard to conclude that the software giant, or even any random firm that runs such service, could simply direct session initiation protocol (SIP) conferences through a mediator, which has the capability to discover packets on their paths, to the intended receivers.
Microsoft’s Legal Intercept patent application might also be just another ongoing issue regarding users’ online communications privacy, following the requests of law enforcement agencies, to which the Skype-to-Skype data encryption could serve no purpose if either Skype or Microsoft hands over the encryption keys to such authorities. This serves as a reminder for the entire Skype user community to carefully select their words before putting them online.
Image: Phil Campbell via Flickr (CC)