Skype is one of the biggest names in online communication – especially if you are looking to make a video call. The service is popular with friends and loved ones separated over great distances but is also an essential tool for many businesses. Conceived as a decentralized service that kept information private, Microsoft now owns Skype. Over the years, many privacy concerns with Skype have surfaced. Users should be aware of the information the service collects about its users. Below you can read about the information Skype collect on you and what they do with this knowledge.
What Happened to Skype’s Privacy?
Skype was invented as a peer-to-peer system. This meant voice calls could be made through a decentralized system. Calls were encrypted and since they were not routed through a centralized server, privacy was all but guaranteed. Unfortunately, that is not the case today.
As of 2017 there are over 1.3 billion registered Skype users. This number has grown every year since 2009 and is estimated to grow to over 2 billion by 2023. Part of what has fueled Skype’s growth is the business sector. In 2011, Microsoft purchased Skype. Microsoft replaced its business communications platform with a platform based around Skype. Businesses now had a voice and video calling platform built into their current communications program. The result was a surge in Skype use by business.
With the purchase of Skype came changes in how Skype worked behind the scenes. The user experience has not changed much since its sale. But the way the program connected users changed radically. Far from the private, decentralized system, Skype now goes through Microsoft-owned servers. This has altered the security and privacy of Skype in a way most users are completely unaware of.
What Skype Privacy Issues Should Concern Me?
The security data dump Edward Snowden provided included a lot of information on how Skype works with the government. We know that Skype provided the NSA with access to encrypted messages. This demonstrates that Skype collects and stores Skype calls. Skype will also provide that data to government agencies on request. While providing safety from terrorists and other criminals is good for society, the loss of privacy is a serious cost for this benefit.
New Privacy Issues
The latest service agreement from Microsoft went into effect May 1st, 2018. In it, the company added language to prohibit using the service to “publicly display or share inappropriate content or material.” There are many problems with this policy that have policy experts concerned. The first problem is that Microsoft appears ready to check for this kind of material. To do this, Microsoft must be able to monitor content passing through their servers. It must be able to determine if it is inappropriate or offensive. This implies a capability of collecting and storing your information. Microsoft must also be capable of analyzing the content.
The second major concern is over the vague language of the statement. Who decides what content is inappropriate? There is a wide range of opinions over what content is offensive. Because the policy is so vague, it would likely be inconsistently enforced. If you are depending on the service to keep in touch with distant friends or co-workers, this is a disturbing situation.
Problems with Cortana and Skype
Microsoft is integrating its Cortana digital assistant across all its products. Cortana is already integrated with Windows 10. Microsoft also has plans to integrate Cortana with Skype soon. Unfortunately, Cortana is already creating privacy concerns with Skype.
Cortana attempts to help you with contextual information in Skype conversations. To do this, it is continuously monitoring Skype. If you mention plans for the weekend in a conversation on Skype, Cortana may pop up with a weather forecast. This reveals that Cortana has complete access to your Skype conversations.
How Skype Uses Your Information
Microsoft also shares this information about you across different Microsoft products. Information from your Skype conversations is connected to information from other sources. These sources would include Outlook, Internet Explorer, and other Microsoft products. By sharing and combining your information, Microsoft can create a very detailed profile of who you are. This data is valuable for targeted advertising purposes.
How Can I Safeguard My Privacy While Using Skype?
Skype may not be the biggest offender [insert link to post about What Facebook Knows About Me] in collecting private information for advertising. It is still quite troubling that it may be monitoring your conversations. There are simple ways to help improve your privacy online. Below you can read about your two best options at privacy.
Changing Your Skype Privacy Settings
One of the easiest ways to begin to take back your privacy on Skype is to take a few minutes to update your privacy settings. By adjusting your privacy settings, you can exercise some control over targeted ads. You can also limit the private information available about you on Skype.
Using A VPN
Even if you adjust your privacy settings, Skype can still gain a great deal of information about you. One simple way to make your online experience more anonymous is to use a good Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN reroutes your data through their server, rather than sending it directly to Skype and other online services. This can enhance your privacy online without banning Skype from your life completely.
Setting up a quality VPN is easy and can be done in a matter of moments. Once set up, connecting through a VPN is simple. You may not even notice a difference in your normal online activities. You may notice that the ads you see no longer seem to be quite so spookily adaptive to your interests.
A VPN will also allow you to avoid geographic restrictions to streaming content online. You may also be able to avoid workplace restrictions on internet access. Check out our VPN guide to finding a quality service that will meet your needs.
It you don’t do anything to secure your privacy, Skype is likely collecting a lot of information on you. However, by adjusting the privacy settings in Skype and using a VPN you can get some of your privacy back. Also, remember that Skype isn’t the only company that is after your personal information.