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Latest Skype Mobile Privacy Concerns: One-Way Mirror to the Bedroom?

Posted: 2007-02-06
From: Mathaba
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Mobile Skype users (and other non-PC users) have their location and number of 'friends' revealed without their knowledge.


Mathaba's Skype-News has learned that users of Skype on mobile devices, PDA's, PocketPC's and apparently other platforms other than Windows Desktop PC, are not warned about information that is revealed to others without their permission.

Users of Skype for Windows, can edit their profile, and choose how much or how little to show about themselves, such as their location, the time on their computer or some other time zone, whether to share how many contacts (Skype calls it "Friends") they have, whether or not they can be contacted by strangers, and other such settings.

However, Skype-News has learnt that users of other computers, mobile devices or non-Windows operating systems, are not warned that they have no control over much of this information. For example, their location or time zone, are apparently taken from their private operating system paramaters, without any warning, and displayed to - at the very least - those who have placed them on their contact lists, as well as the number of "friends" they have.

There is no way to turn this "feature" off, and a good comparison of what it means is in order: it basically amounts to a one-way mirror into - potentially - your bedroom or at least the living room of your house - but a one-way mirror from the outside looking in, not the other way around. Not being informed about, and having no control over, others being able to know your apparent location or time zone, is surely an invasion of privacy.

Skype lax carelessness over privacy issues is nothing new. We have revealed several such issues in the past, first to Skype who in each case have done nothing about it, nor cared about it enough to warn their users, such as back doors created by malicious third party developers which gave those parties access to user names and passwords, and then to the public as is our duty as a media network in an increasingly money-led world where mainstream media have lost sight of the job of the media to inform, warn and protect the public interest.

The issue of Skype left running in Internet cafes and of being unable to detect if others have logged in to your account and are monitoring all your communications, issues that have been addressed long ago by other services such as MSN Messenger, remain apparently unsolved for simple lack of priority at corporate Skype. That is not to say that Skype has addressed some privacy concerns that are still lacking at Microsoft, although those issues have largely been solved by accident from the outset rather than intention: such as some degree of obfuscation of chat messages and calls due to the peer-to-peer relay nature of Skype communications.

Meanwhile, we are unaware of any way in which users of non-Windows Skype can protect the privacy of their location, time zone, or contact numbers, and our investigations thus far lead us to conclude that this is not a high priority issue at Skype. The track record of Skype thus remains little different than other profit-led corporations, who seek to cover up at worst, or ignore at best, issues of privacy and security concern to their users. It also begs the question how many other issues, even more serious than this one, have been buried, or undetected by the Skype users yet are known among Skype management who deliberately choose to keep their users in the dark about such issues.

Download the latest version of Skype for Windows here - with free Skype calls, video, chat, file transfers and conference calling and low-cost calls to telephones worldwide.
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