INTERESTED PARTIES have asked Microsoft's voice over IP (VoIP) and chat communications service Skype to be more open and release a transparency report.
The letter is signed by journalism and internet activist groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Reporters Without Borders.
It takes a critical view of the communications network. The letter is addressed to Skype division president Tony Bates, Microsoft chief privacy officer Brendon Lynch and Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith.
"[Many] users rely on Skype for secure communications-whether they are activists operating in countries governed by authoritarian regimes, journalists communicating with sensitive sources, or users who wish to talk privately in confidence with business associates, family, or friends," it reads.
"It is unfortunate that these users, and those who advise them on best security practices, work in the face of persistently unclear and confusing statements about the confidentiality of Skype conversations, and in particular the access that governments and other third parties have to Skype user data and communications."
Now is the time for Microsoft to "publicly document Skype's security and privacy practices," it argues. This should take the form of a transparency report that includes five things.
First of these is quantitative data about when and where Skype releases user information to third parties. This should extend to the types of data requested and the number of times that it complied.
Second are "specific details" of the data that Microsoft and Skype collect, and the retention policies that cover that data.
Third is the firm's understanding of what data third parties, government or criminal, might be able to intercept or retain.
Fourth is the relationship that Skype has with its third party users, like the Chinese TOM Online, and what it knows about how those versions operate.
Fifth is its interpretation of how it must respond to requests made under the US Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). This would let users get an idea of how Skype reacts to subpoenas and how it responds to requests for user data from law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the US and elsewhere.
The letter says that other firms, including Twitter and Google, are open about their security and privacy policies and calls on Skype to do the same.
Microsoft is aware of the missive. "We are reviewing the letter," said a spokesperson.
"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." µ