Skype is not helping the feds spy on its users, it says

The online call service company responds to recent chatter that it was lax on security and privacy, especially when it came to government peeping.

Skype has come under fire this past week for allegedly letting the U.S. government use its service to spy on its users. The online call service company is now saying that's simply not true.

"Some media stories recently have suggested Skype may be acting improperly or based on ulterior motives against our users' interests," Skype Chief Development and Operations Officer Mark Gillett wrote in a blog post today. "Nothing could be more contrary to the Skype philosophy."

Skype serves 250 million active users a month and supported 115 billion minutes of calls in the last quarter. It is specifically being accused of facilitating law enforcement wiretapping of conversations. These accusations point to changes that have happened in the service since it was bought by Microsoft in May 2011, most notably the way calls can be intercepted.

In the blog post, Gillett goes point by point to explain Skype's side of the story. Here are some highlights:

It has been suggested that Skype made changes in its architecture at the behest of Microsoft in order to provide law enforcement with greater access to our users' communications.

False. Skype's architecture decisions are based on our desire to provide the best possible product to our users. Skype was in the process of developing and moving supernodes to cloud servers significantly ahead of the Microsoft acquisition of Skype. Skype first deployed 'mega-supernodes' to the cloud to improve reliability of the Skype software and service in December 2010.

It has been suggested that Skype has recently changed its posture and policies with regard to law enforcement.

False. The move to supernodes was not intended to facilitate greater law enforcement access to our users' communications. Skype has had a team of Skype employees to respond to legal demands and requests from law enforcement since 2005... Our position has always been that when a law enforcement entity follows the appropriate procedures, we respond where legally required and technically feasible.

It has been suggested that as a result of recent architecture changes Skype now monitors and records audio and video calls of our users.

False. The move to in-house hosting of "supernodes" does not provide for monitoring or recording of calls. "Supernodes" help Skype clients to locate each other so that Skype calls can be made. Simply put, supernodes act as a distributed directory of Skype users. Skype to Skype calls do not flow through our data centres and the "supernodes" are not involved in passing media (audio or video) between Skype clients.

It has been suggested that the changes we have made were made to facilitate law enforcement access to instant messages on Skype.

False. The enhancements we have been making to our software and infrastructure have been to improve user experience and reliability. Period.

Some commentators have suggested that Skype has stopped protecting its users' communications.

False. Skype software autonomously applies encryption to Skype to Skype calls between computers, smartphones and other mobile devices with the capacity to carry a full version of Skype software as it always has done. This has not changed.

According to Business Insider, Skype keeps users' personal information in its system for 30 days, which is probably why it mentions that it will cooperate with law enforcement when "legally required and technically feasible." However, Federal investigators got access to Skype conversations between Megaupload founder Kim DotCom and his colleagues over the course of five years and supposedly didn't have to ask Skype for anything.

Nevertheless, Skype maintains that it's primary interest is providing the best product it can to its users. "In addition to solving the challenges of scaling and providing reliable, dependable communications that people love, we operate globally and have an obligation to operate responsibly," Gillette wrote. "We are committed to doing a great job at both -- providing a phenomenal experience for all users, and acting as a responsible global citizen."

 

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