The Washington Post

Some alternatives to Skype

This is not its best angle. (Andrew Harrer/BLOOMBERG)

Is it modifying its complex peer-to-peer-based call structure, making it easier to wiretap calls by relocating call-connecting supernodes to secure Microsoft datacenters, where the calls might be recorded? Or are they simply updating the supernodes — already used to establish the initial connection between peers — to prevent service failures? Am I using any of those words correctly?

One thing is for sure: everyone hackers various hackers some people seem very upset about it. Skype is not answering questions in a clear, reassuring tone. They have issued a statement that says they are just attempting to “improve the Skype user experience” and not changing the way calls are made — peer-to-peer, not through a middleman. But many Internet Worriers are unconvinced.

So, until someone can figure out what’s going on — why did Microsoft obtain a patent for “legal intercept” wiretapping technology that allows you to silently record a conversation? Why did they move the supernodes? What aren’t they telling us? And what about the situations where Skype’s privacy policy says they might be able to store or share data as required by law? — what to do?

Legal interception has long been a sticky wicket for companies like Skype, which now boasts more than 250 million users. Compliance with interception requests from a country like the United States might seem justifiable, although it would open guiltless parties to unwanted scrutiny. But what about requests from countries with a less permissive approach to online discourse? Skype‘s policy was not to comply with these requests, whatever their source — the structure of its network made this sort of monitoring impossible, a fact that drew many secure-communication-seekers to it. But there has always been a trade-off between law-abiding and maintaining user privacy, especially when companies seek to do business in countries whose governments try to keep a stranglehold on dissenters online.

And privacy is a shady thing. Why do you need it if you aren’t doing anything wrong? After all, it is not that I do lots of illegal things on my devices. My life is, sadly, sedate. My only hobby is law-abiding. “Hey,” I sometimes tell my friends, “let’s make a wild Friday night of it! Let’s go out and abide by obscure laws from the 1800s!”

I have few friends, but we have spent wonderful Fridays walking respectfully across intersections and leaving sleeping bears alone. (You’d be amazed how many laws can be summed up in the phrase “Leave that bear alone.”)

Still, I’m not ready to give up on online privacy just because I have no immediate use for it. If that’s the logic we’re applying, I might as well get rid of all my yoga pants and womb. No, in a decade, when I am disturbing lots of slumbering bears in yoga pants with a baby, I will want all the Internet privacy I can get.

As long as Skype really hasn’t changed its underlying structure, all may yet be well. Still, until we figure out what’s going on, here are a few alternatives to Skype.

● Yelling.

● Yelling in a mountainous region so it echoes better.

● AOL Instant Messenger (yes, it’s not secure, but it’s so annoying that the wiretappers would be driven insane.)

● Gchat. (“At least it’s not Microsoft.”)

● Using the telephone normally but yelling things like “I know you’re there, Carl!” and “Carl, do you ever think about your life? Do you ever think about the cost?” Even if this doesn’t deter the tappers, people will soon stop answering the phone when you call.

● Pigeons.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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