Instant messaging and VOIP specialist Skype stands accused by its users of violating their privacy and its stated policies with a new synchronisation feature in version 5 of its software.
Users on the Skype support forums have been complaining that, since upgrading to Skype 5, it has become near-impossible to delete existing chat messages if you use multiple computers.
Skype has always shared messages between logged-in systems: if you have a laptop and a desktop connected, for example, both will receive messages from contacts simultaneously. If the laptop is turned off, however, it won't receive the messages - or didn't.
Skype 5 brings with it an under-defined 'feature' that has its users up in arms: all received chat messages are now stored, although it's not known where, so that if a desktop machine is shut down and a laptop or mobile device connected all of the previously received messages will reappear.
Although it appears to have been innocently added as a handy function, allowing users to refer to their previous chat history no matter what device they're using, it's got some users steaming mad - and appears to contravene the company's official stance on privacy.
In a list of Skype features on the website, the company clearly states: "Skype archives your chats for you and stores them locally on your computer, if you have enabled this option. Chat histories are not stored anywhere on the Skype network."
To enable the shared archive function in Skype 5, however, the messages must be stored somewhere - and this potential breach of privacy, coupled with a complete lack of official comment on the matter from Skype, has engendered some ill-will.
Forum user 'BurtReynolds' describes the issue as 'infuriating,' stating in a forum thread: "I don't have chat history turned on on either PC, I delete/ clear my message history and yet, still when I log into my home PC of an evening all the messages from throughout the day start appearing. I have not stored them for a reason, I don't want them and I certainly don't want sensitive work conversations popping up on any PC with my Skype account on!"
Other users join 'Burt' in his anger, with 'g4pilut' agreeing with his concerns: "I hadn't noticed this behavior (sic) since updating but now that I'm aware of it, it seems like a security breach to me. Not good thinking, Skype."
So far there has been no official word from Skype on how the centralised archiving feature works on the ostensibly peer-to-peer messaging system, but some users have been quick to see a conspiracy. Forum poster 'mils-spec' hypothesises: "Skype, like all other communications corporations, have been ordered by the U.S. government, to keep a 2-year record of all communications. As Skype do not have their own servers, as it runs on a P2P basis, it could be that they are now using OUR computers to store the records they have possibly been ordered to keep, writing into Skype 5 the ability to remotely interrogate a user's conversations file."
If Skype wants to head this issue off at the pass, it needs to issue a formal statement as to the introduction of the 'feature' in Skype 5, how it works, and - most importantly - how to disable it.