Microsoft ordered to clarify Skype privacy fears

Microsoft has been urged to clarify how often information from Skype is shared with government agencies when they make requests.

Privacy advocates have issued an open letter to the president of Skype, a chief privacy officer at Microsoft and also the firm's general counsel.

One of the main requests is for Microsoft to release regular transparency reports, which other firms such as Google and Twitter already provide.

In the proposed transparency reports, Microsoft is asked to declare the number of governments that have requested data from Skype, the type of data which has been requested and to provide a breakdown of requests that were complied with or rejected.

The letter also wants details about all user data Microsoft and Skype currently collects and its retention policies.

Currently, Microsoft provides limited information to users about how exactly data from Skype is used in its privacy policy.

The document does state that Skype, its local partners or any operators facilitating the transfer of communication may pass on personal data, communications content and/or traffic data to relevant authorities if they request it.

"Skype will provide reasonable assistance and information to fulfil this request and you hereby consent to such disclosure," the privacy policy states.

In terms of the storage of information, the policy notes that IMs, voicemail, and video message content are stored to help synchronise messages and allow users to view their history.

"Depending on the message type, messages are generally stored by Skype for a maximum of between 30 and 90 days unless otherwise permitted or required by law. This storage facilitates delivery of messages when a user is offline and to help sync messages between user devices," the policy added.

Microsoft has acknowledged that it is looking into the request, but it remains to be seen whether any such reports are forthcoming.

"We are reviewing the letter. Microsoft has an ongoing commitment to collaborate with advocates, industry partners and governments worldwide to develop solutions and promote effective public policies that help protect people's online safety and privacy," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement.

Ironically, Microsoft is trying to promote itself as pro-privacy. On its Bing privacy page, Microsoft takes aim squarely at Google for not respecting the privacy of individuals and encourages people to use its search engine instead.

Microsoft Bing privacy

Khidr Suleman is the Technical Editor at IT Pro, a role he has fulfilled since March 2012. He is responsible for the reviews section on the site  - so get in touch if you have a product you think might be of interest to the business world. He also covers the hardware and operating systems beats. Prior to joining IT Pro, Khidr worked as a reporter at Incisive Media. He studied law at the University of Reading and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism and Online Writing at PMA Training.