We’re all familiar with Skype. The app allows us to make video conferencing and VoIP calls over the internet. Skype has over 40 million daily active users and remains popular worldwide (despite facing tough competition from other companies). However, the app has issues that make it a viable threat vector for cybercriminals. The good news is that updating your privacy settings on Skype can help protect your personal information.
Privacy Problems with Skype
That said, analyzing the information in the privacy statement gives us an idea of what information is logged. We can assume that Microsoft logs the details present in your profile (username, email, birth date, etc.). It may also gather data related to your interactions like your chat history, duration of calls, sent and received files, and activity status.
Edward Snowden also once shared details on how Skype collaborates with the government. The company, for instance, offered NSA access to encrypted messages. This indicates that the app stores and collects Skype calls. Plus, it also shares the call-related data with government agencies upon request. While ensuring no terrorism-related communications are happening on Skype is a good thing, the opportunity cost is the loss of privacy for the average Skype user.
Microsoft’s Service Agreement
Another privacy concern relates to Microsoft’s service agreement. The company initiated this agreement on May 1, 2018, stating that it prohibits users from sharing inappropriate content. Plus, it added rules that give it a right to review the content while it investigates a complaint. The update applies to Skype users too, which indicates that Microsoft stores your call and can review them later to evaluate if they comply with their policies.
All of this means that your calls are no longer private. And while there are some alternatives for making VoIP calls, those apps bring their own privacy concerns to the table. Fortunately, tweaking your Skype privacy settings can help ensure you only keep the information you don’t want to reveal to anyone private.
Skype and Cortana Issues
Microsoft is packaging its Cortana digital assistant into all of its products, and it also plans to integrate it with Skype. However, Cortana is already causing privacy concerns among the Skype community. The assistant claims to help users by providing contextual information in conversations, but it continuously monitors Skype to offer this service. So if you plan a get-together with friends in a conversation on Skype, Cortana may present you with a list of parks you could visit. This means the digital assistant has complete access to your Skype data.
Finding Privacy Settings in Skype
Skype is available on a few devices. This means locating privacy settings on Skype will vary depending on whether you’re accessing the app via a computer, tablet or phone. Their location may also vary depending on whether you’re using a Mac or Windows computer. Generally, you can access these settings by taking the following steps:
- Look for Settings in the menu bar.
- See if you can find a menu option titled “Privacy” or if there’s a “Preferences” option that lets you access privacy settings on Skype.
On some devices, the privacy settings option is integrated in the default Skype settings. There’s no separate Privacy Setting option for you to use. But if you face problems and are unable to find the privacy setting you’re searching for, you can get more information from Skype Help.
Taking Control of Your Skype Privacy Settings
Here’s a list of information you can tweak in your Skype privacy settings. Make sure to evaluate the options and then decide where you would like to enhance your Skype privacy.
Update Your Profile Information
Skype presents you with a profile page featuring blank spaces to fill in your personal details. The more information you list in your profile, the easier it’ll be for your friends and family to find you on the app. However, you might prefer to keep some information secret. Fortunately, you can forgo some of the details requested when filling out your profile.
For instance, you don’t need to mention your city and state, and you can even withhold your gender and birth date. Plus, you’re not required to disclose your phone number in this section of your Skype account. The decision of closing each piece of information is yours. However, you should only provide as many details as you are comfortable with.
Manage IM (Instant Messaging)
Did you know that Skype allows anyone to send you instant messages? Yeap, any Skype user can send you files, videos, text messages, etc. You can switch off SMS and instant messages if you prefer not to get these messages in the app.
To do so, go to “Notification Settings” and turn off SMS and IM. This privacy setting also lets you restrict the ability to send you instant messages to just your contacts. For the purpose, check the “Contacts Only” box to prevent strangers (and hackers) from sending you instant messages).
Decide Who Can Call You
Skype has a call-related privacy setting that lets you decide whether you want to receive calls from anyone or only from people in your contact list. The default setting is to allow calls from anyone. So by restricting who can dial you on Skype, you can prevent spam and annoying calls from disrupting your experience of Skype. Secure your privacy by clicking on the slider to switch the option off.
Manage Your Public Information
When someone wants to connect with you on Skype, they’ll look for you in the search bar. The app allows people to find you by either entering your username, phone number, or email address. However, you can restrict what information is publicly available to anyone who is searching for you on Skype. To manage this Skype privacy setting, click “Manage how people find me on Skype”. Then toggle off the option to show in any search suggestion.
If you want, you can keep your mobile number or email address public to enable people to search for you by the information you are most comfortable with sharing. The information you choose will be publicly available to those performing a search on Skype. It’s important to keep one of the three details public because it can be difficult for a friend/contact/employee/boss to find you otherwise.
Manage Access to Your Contacts
Skype has the capability to automatically find people that are already in your contact database. This is how they populate contact data in your Skype list. The process involves Skype scanning your address book for email addresses and phone numbers of people you know. It then searches for them automatically and adds any it discovers to your Skype contact list. However, if your contacts have restricted their public information, Skype may not be able to add them to your list (even if they use Skype).
If you’ve concerned about your privacy, you can switch off the option that gives Skype access to your address book. While this means you’ll need to manually add your friends and colleagues on Skype, you would prevent the app from gaining access to your address book.
Decide Whether to Receive Targeted Ads
Skype offers its service for free when it comes to making video and voice calls in most countries. However, Microsoft sells advertising to companies, which is how it monetizes Skype. As they have information on the profiles of every user, they can serve ads with great context. This information can include personal details such as your gender and age. By default, Skype has the box that permits Microsoft to serve targeted ads to you checked. But if you don’t want to get targeted ads, you can uncheck the box besides “Allow Microsoft Targeted Ads”.
Using a VPN For Skype
Even after you’ve adjusted your Skype privacy setting, the app can log a great deal of information about you. For a truly anonymous experience, the best option is to use a VPN (aka. virtual private network). VPNs route your information through their service, rather than transmitting it directly to Skype. This enhances your online privacy without requiring you to forgo Skype and other online services.
Configuring a quality VPN like ExpressVPN on our device is quick and easy. Once installed, you can connect to one of the VPN’s servers to become anonymous. You may not even realize that you’re connected to a VPN. Plus, the ads Microsoft serves you will no longer be related to your interests (an indication that Skype is unable to log your profile information). Besides these perks, you can also use a VPN to unblock geo-restricted content on online streaming services, if that’s something you struggle with.
If you don’t take action to protect your privacy, Skype will continue gathering information on you. By adjusting your Skype privacy setting and using a good-quality VPN, you can regain some control over your privacy. Tweaking the settings mentioned in this article will help you stay relatively private while using the app.