Free Skype--for some

by Erica Sadun

Today, Skype announced free calls to all landlines and mobile phones in the US and Canada. The SkypeOut service lets you place phone calls your computer. Great freebie, very kind of them to offer this, but it's not working for a large number of Skype subscribers. Is it working for you?

This is a different approach from competitor With Jajah, you place the call at the website and then wait for Jajah to call you at home. It then acts as an operator and connects you to the number you requested. You don't talk over the computer, you talk over your normal landline handset, which I find very handy. Also, unlike Skype, you can also place free short calls to Europe. For longer calls (world wide), you need to set up and fund an account.

There's been a lot of talk about the US National Security Agency and call privacy, but somehow I feel more private calling over my land line than my computer, let alone over my cell phone. Am I off base here?

Finally, if you have nothing better to do with your life and you have the emotional maturity of, say, a donut, Jajah makes it very easy to place prank calls. You could connect your friend's phone to, for example, the local restaurant take-out line, any number of porn shops, or even Dial-the-Truth ministries. You may need to clean the Jajah cookies (Safari -> Preferences, Security, Show Cookies), wash your hands, and visit your local cleric to seek absolution between calls.

Report back here.


Telecom Guy
2006-05-15 17:55:26
somehow I feel more private calling over my land line than my computer, let alone over my cell phone. Am I off base here?

Yes you are. Almost all phone calls, whether they are originiated in skype, cell, or land line, will pass through telco switches before they reach the point of termination. Even cell phone to cell phone calls go through land lines, depending on the local service providers involved.

Erica Sadun
2006-05-15 17:58:27
Telecom Guy, so what is the most private way to communicate? Which way is a machine more likely to be listening for key words? What about actual people listening in? Should I trust Jajah or Skype not to monitor my calls? Is hacking into cell phone communication as easy as they show it in the movies?
2006-05-15 23:30:05
Erica, the most private way to communicate is using strong encryption, via email or via phone.

You can consider any other way of communication unsecure and the latest scandal about the NSA obtaining information about millions of phone calls gives you a nice idea of how true this is.

Physical lines can be tapped, radio waves intercepted and network packet sniffed, the only way to be relatively sure that your words remain private is to encrypt them. If you're using email it's quite easy, there are a lot of programs that can do that, the best one is surely GPG (there are plugins for using it with almost every email client). On the phone things get complicated, there are commercial products like PGPPhone that allows encryption. Skype communication between computers (if your call is PC-->PC) is encrypted with an undisclosed algorythm so it's not possible to consider it 100% safe. I don't think SkypeOUT could be encrypted.

Hacking into cell phone communication is not that hard, the old ETACS system (i guess they use it only in 3rd world countries now) was in clear, so a normal radio scanner was enough to listen to phone calls, i've tried that first hand in the 90's. The GSM system use a very weak encryption system to transmit data, but the key for it can be generated in no-time even on very old computers (not that the authorities would actually need to do that, they just need to ask the telcos). There are "tin-foil-hat-conspiracy-teorist" that say that even when turned off your cellphone can be turned into some kind of wiretapping device, but i think that is a little too much.

So, as you can see, communicating privately is getting pretty difficult, nowadays...


2006-05-16 09:05:51
Unless you're calling known or suspected terrorists overseas, then you shouldn't have anything to worry about with the NSA.
2007-07-28 20:58:34
so old skype is no longer free and nothing else is