Skype sniping - Open up Skype, your reputation needs it

by Jeremiah Foster

I mostly use linux to get my work done, but occasionally I am very glad that my network has Macs on it. It means I can easily buy music from iTunes or use Skype for example.

I thought I would try out Skype with video, all the cool kids are doing it so why not. Oops, not available for linux. Hmm, try some other apps that do the same thing? Mixed results. Ekiga is not so great, other tools are just not usable, not least because they are built in Tcl. Time to move to the Mac.

Cool, plug in my new web cam, the Logitech QuickCam Pro 5000, and off we go. . . but wait! The web cam does not work on the Mac? But I just had it working on linux, yeah I had to download a driver and some pretty freaky software but it worked. How can they not support the Mac?

Oh well, I guess I will just use Skype to make phone calls, without the video. Hmm, what is the deal here with Skype's license? I know it is the non-free section of Ubuntu so it is not GPL'd. Better look through the EULA. Oh. Nasty. Time to turn to Google.

My friend Google tells me that Skype is apparently reading from the BIOS on certain Windows machines, glad I do not run Windows or let it onto my network! But what is the story here? Aha, Skype uses the BIOS information to identify specific machines, perhaps to limit connections, perhaps for something else, Skype doesn't say.

Google also tells me that Skype seriously obscures its code (.pdf). Why? What do they have to hide? Maybe this is to be expected from a company that ran roughshod over copyright law when they built Kazaa. Even Skype's CEO, is afraid to set foot in the US for fear of being immediately arrested upon arrival. I guess money can't buy you everything can it Niklas Zennerström? No Disney World vacations for you!

On a serious note Skype, why not open up a little? Let us know what you are doing on our computers. Start by answering these simple questions;

1. Does Skype contain backdoors or Malware?

2. How can we know without just taking your word? You only provide a "black box" which is impossible to see inside. You are purposely vague about what you do with the information from the BIOS you obtain.

3. Can I refuse to become a SuperNode? (SuperNode = no firewall + fast cpu + lots of bandwdth. This is one of the reasons why many universities ban Skype, because universities often have computers on their network that become SuperNodes.)

Until I get more information, I am going to apt-get remove skype and send to to the trash on my Apple machines. I will stick with my Apple tools and things available under the GPL, at least that is software I can trust.

12 Comments

Robert Pritchett
2007-02-14 06:40:33
My first impressions of Skype were not too good when I "traced" links when it was first beta over a year or so ago. There seemed to be over 48 or more different places around the world where Skype connected to my Mac for the magic to work.


Now I communicate with it to regular phones for the annual fee and I'm waiting for them to offer an 800 number function so I can drop Vonage.


BTW, the video on Mac functions great! Thanks George Jetson. We are in the 21st Century!

Joe
2007-02-14 07:24:20
It's a shame that Skype is drawing so much attention away from open, SIP-based platforms (like Gizmo Project). There are many SIP-based products, both in hardware and software, that also support video. Their problem is that they generally aren't as easy to use as Skype. As voice and video over IP becomes more widepsread, I suspect these open SIP-based products will become easier to use. Unfortunately, Skype has a very large lead among mainstream mindshare...
cloudbase9
2007-02-14 08:34:28
Skype uploads the entire content of your address book (on the Mac) to its servers without telling you when you ask it to use your personal address list. I foolishly thought I was merely linking Skype to my address list, but that isn't the case at all.


If you then wish to delete this list... you can't, except by deleting each entry one at a time in a labourious process, which I think is intentional. Skype grabbed thousands of my addresses in this way without warning. Obviously they are trying to aggregate names for unknown commercial )data mining?) purposes. Several emails to them to remove my list from thier servers resulted in no action. Lists are copyrighted by ther creators so I wonder if Skype's action is legal, let alone moral. I hired my young daughter to remove my addresses from skype's servers one at a time. Even then, there is no guarantee they have been deleted, of course.

Robert
2007-02-14 09:16:27
Please don't blame a programming language (Tcl in this case) for the programmers shortcomings.
Dave
2007-02-14 09:29:11
For the Quickcam Pro 5000 .. earlier revisions of this require a driver to work on Mac.. IOXperts latest beta works for me .. Macam has this in the works. For later revisions of this camera no driver is required simply plug and play.
Anthony
2007-02-14 10:37:20
Use Gizmo instead.
junkie
2007-02-14 11:14:06
1) i think they say on their website, no spyware. from what I have read, they are insane about security. the engineers from kazaa don't want their new creation to be exploited and lose trust.
2) conceivably there are a ton of tricks they are using to secure the network and they probably won't tell you.
3) what sort of network activity are you getting? why do you think you are ever a super node at all?
junkie
2007-02-14 11:20:32
cloudbase they do upload your contact list but that is very common in IM systems. aol lets you see your buddies from any machine. that way no matter where your login you see the same list of contacts. to do this buddy lists are centrally stored and covered by privacy policies. the phone numbers in your contact list are treated the same way.


in your case clearly it was not what you intended, but in other ways it can be helpful, like if you are going on a trip, you can import some contacts into your skype contacts, then when you sign-in at an internet cafe you have your phone list right there. its also great if you have a wifi or cordless phone, you can add or edit the phonelist in those phones from any client.


in your case they just need to let you delete multiple contacts at the same time, probably a bug.

/Sven
2007-02-14 18:54:22
I understand your worries. Of course, it would be nice if Skype opens up. On the other hand, they have an extremely successful platform, so it is understandable that they don't.


From my perspective, Skype is so successful, because it is Zero-Config. It always works, behind every firewall I ever was behind. It has also always worked for every colleague or friend I now. Install it, start it, done. That is powerful (see Apple/Mac) - very powerful and more or less a complete new expierience for those poor WinUsers.


So if I want others to colaborate with me, I always suggest Skype, since I know it will work instantly.

Anon
2007-02-14 23:28:51
If you have Little Snitch (http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/10426) you can see how active Skype is.
- To find out about how it works and "super node" --- read this paper: http://www1.cs.columbia.edu/~library/TR-repository/reports/reports-2004/cucs-039-04.pdf
LKM
2007-02-15 04:34:08
Yeah, since tons of Macs include iSight cameras, webcam support from other vendors isn't too good. There are drivers available, but generally, they are from third parties and cost extra.
DIESEL
2007-10-30 20:57:17
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