Dan Gillmor: eBay Buying Skype: The Privacy Question Grows

Dan Gillmor brings up an interesting privacy concern with the announced purchase of Skype by eBay:

It’s official, and eBay will now be adding something to its portfolio: customers’ presence online. The possibilities are endless. I didn’t get this at first, but now I do.

But another element of this deal strikes me as disturbing — its impact on customers’ privacy. Here’s why:

Skype has built encryption into its software. But the company has, as far as I can tell, basically stonewalled security experts who want to trust that a) the crypto is not flawed and b) that there’s no backdoor into our private messages. In particular, Skype has refused to let third-party experts look at the encryption in a detailed way to verify its bona fides. I’m not asking for totally open source crypto (though that would be helpful), just enough openness for the community of experts to pound on the software for potential flaws.

Next, consider eBay’s well-documented willingness to work with government snoops. eBay does this largely because of the fraud problems it faces, and I don’t believe the motives are bad ones.

But the combination is disturbing. Up until now I haven’t entirely trusted Skype or its software. Now I have a more compelling reason not to trust it.

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