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:
- 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.
- Specific details of all user data Microsoft and Skype currently collects, and retention policies.
- Skype’s best understanding of what user data third-parties, including network providers or potential malicious attackers, may be able to intercept or retain.
- 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.
- 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.