Did Microsoft Buy Skype To Spy On You?

Spying Binoculars

Photo: Flickr

Of course they did. They’ll deny it, because they’re a corporation and they have secrets to protect, profits to make, and apparently, millions of Americans to spy on.They might be able to hire wonderful PR firms and amazing lawyers, but they cannot hide from the truth. And the truth is this: In December 2009, Microsoft applied for a patent to legally intercept VoIP phone calls.

In May 2011, Microsoft bought Skype, the VoIP phone call company. If you think that’s a big fat coincidence, I have a bridge to sell you.

Why else would they have bought the $8.5 billion company? Even Wired.com couldn’t figure out Microsoft’s rationale in buying Skype, citing “Ultimately, it’s hard to see how the Skype purchase is worthwhile from a technology or user-access perspective. The technology isn’t good enough and the users aren’t lucrative enough or plentiful enough to justify it.”

You can, however, completely justify it if Microsoft intends to provide the government with a means to eavesdrop and record phone users. Their patent application makes it clear that Microsoft intends to pursue eavesdropping technology for VoIP. By patenting it now, Microsoft can be the sole provider of surveillance of the next generation of phone usage.

This has ramifications beyond just government spying, although that is perhaps the most damning possibility. Microsoft could, for example, use the technology to monitor every phone conversation over VoIP and, using data-mining techniques, determine which users are most likely to buy certain products. They could sell that data to telemarketers, who could then tailor their obnoxious phone calls to specific individuals. It’s creepy enough that facebook reads my status updates and automatically places ads based on the keywords I write.

Who’s to say this new system will be hackproof? Do I really want to risk people listening in on my conversation with the pizza company, where I give them my credit card info? How hard would it be to filter common words I say and use that data to reverse-engineer my passwords? Will one girlfriend be able to track when I talk to the other girlfriends?

Yet, it is government’s ability and desire to spy on Americans that makes this patent downright scary. How quickly can it recoup that $8.5 billion by pimping itself out to the government? Microsoft has already chosen profits over principle once before, deciding to stay in China despite China’s oppressive regime and anti-free speech censorship policies. It’s not like spying on Americans is that far-fetched for the software giant.

The best part? There isn’t a damn thing you can do about it, other than not use their products. The Constitution, which in theory protects you from government abuse, does not protect you from private company abuse. Good luck with that, America.

— John Thorpe

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