Privacy groups call on Skype to issue regular transparency reports

Increasing integration of Skype with other Microsoft products sparks privacy concerns

Privacy groups are calling on Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) VoIP unit Skype to be more transparent about conversation confidentiality and its data protection and retention policies.

In an open letter to top officials at Microsoft and Skype, the advocacy groups expressed concern that governments and other third parties might be able to access Skype data exchanges and VoIP conversations. The groups noted that Skype, which has over 600 million users worldwide, is often used by activists and journalists to communicate sensitive information.

The groups called on Skype to release a regular transparency report that includes quantitative data about the release of Skype user information to third parties; details on Microsoft and Skype user data collection and data retention policies; Skype's "best understanding" of what data third parties are able to intercept or retain; documentation on Skype's relationship with third-party licensed users of Skype technology and their ability to conduct surveillance and censorship, and Skype's understanding of its responsibilities regarding requests for user data from law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Microsoft told the BBC it is reviewing the letter. "Microsoft has an ongoing commitment to collaborate with advocates, industry partners and 2,112 governments worldwide to develop solutions and promote effective public policies that help protect people's online safety and privacy," a spokeswoman told the BBC.

The privacy groups' concerns are no doubt fueled by Microsoft's decision to increase integration of Skype with other Microsoft products and services, such as its Lync unified communication platform and its Windows Live Messenger service.

As part of that integration, Microsoft recently announced the availability of Skype 6.1, which enables users to connect with Skype contacts within Windows Outlook. A user can send an instant message or launch audio and video calls from Outlook.

"Say, for instance, you receive an email from your colleague Karah. When you right-click on Karah's contact info in the email, if she's already one of your Skype contacts you'll see if she's available on Skype. If she is, you can launch a Skype call or IM session right from there," explained Ural Cebeci, product marketing manager at Skype, in a blog.

Integration of Skype with Outlook makes it easier to connect with business contacts. Business users will no longer have to toggle between Outlook and their Skype desktop client, Cebeci related.

Microsoft announced earlier this month that it is shutting down Windows Messenger on March 15 and diverting users to Skype, according to a Microsoft email to Messenger users obtained by The Guardian. The integration of Skype with Windows could be an effort by Microsoft to ease the transition for Messenger users.

For more:
- check out the privacy groups' letter
- read the BBC report
- see Cebeci's blog
- read The Guardian article

Commentary: Microsoft links Lync with Skype

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