Skype has been spying on its Windows-based users since the middle of December by secretly accessing their system bios settings and recording the motherboard serial number.
A blog entry made on Skype's website assures us it's no big deal. The snooper agent is the handiwork of a third-party program called EasyBits Software, which Skype uses to manage Skype plug-ins.
Among other things, EasyBits offers DRM features that prevent the unauthorized use or distribution of plug-ins, and that's why Skype 3.0 has been nosing around in users' bios. Reading the serial number allows EasyBits to quickly identify the physical computer the software is running on. The practice was discontinued on Thursday, when Skype was updated to version 188.8.131.52.
"It is quite normal to look at indicators that uniquely identify the platform and there is nothing secret about reading hardware parameters from the BIOS," Skype's blog author, Kurt Sauer, assured us. He also says Skype never retrieved any of this data. We're not sure that's the point.
Skype goes to great lengths to assure users they will not be fed spyware, which the eBay-owned VOIP provider defines as "software that becomes installed on computer without the informed consent or knowledge of the computer’s owner and covertly transmits or receives data to or from a remote host." What's more, we were unable to find terms of service the spells out what EasyBits does with the information it gathers on Skype users.
It's also hard to take Skype's nothing-to-see-here notification at face value because of the lengths the software goes to conceal its snooping. As documented in the Pagetable blog, the Skype snoopware runs a .com file and prevents the more curious users among us from reading it. Were it not for errors it was giving users of 64-bit versions, we'd probably still be in the dark.
Skype's decision to remove the EasyBits DRM feature is a good start. Time now for an apology and an explanation of what has been done with the information already collected. ®