New MS Office, Skype Could Spy on User Conversations

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft is reportedly planning to integrate Skype into the online edition of the Microsoft Office suite. But there's controversy over a Microsoft patent that would allow government officials the ability to monitor calls made by Skype users.

Microsoft Office 365 Launches June 28, 2011

Office 365 officially launched this week. It works the same way as the traditional Office package but the software runs on Microsoft servers and is accessed via an Internet connection (this is an example of "cloud computing", which uses the "centralized computing" model to share information).

The new Microsoft Office 365 drastically reduces hardware demands on local machines, as well as making it easier to have different levels of access for different employees. It also comes with a custom pricing rather than blanket deals for entire companies.

Microsoft Lync Link Comes to Light At Launch

Although Microsoft can't say too much about its recent $8.5 billion dollar acquisition of Skype, the company has briefly outlined its intentions for the platform.

Kurt DelBene, who heads Microsoft's business division, said at the Office 365 launch that "The ability to connect Lync users with Skype users is a huge opportunity for us."(Source:

Lync is a feature included in Office 365 that allows users of a corporate network to communicate in a smoother manner. It covers instant messaging, audio calls and video conferencing, as well as allowing users to signal when they are available to talk or are busy.

For now, it appears the first step will be to integrate the Skype status message into Lync, but the logical conclusion would be to combine the software so users can make Skype calls directly from Office.

'Silent Recording of Calls' Patent Attracts Scrutiny

Unfortunately for Microsoft, Skype is hitting the headlines for less positive reasons.

The US Patent & Trademark Office has just published its approval of a patent application Microsoft made in 2009 for a technology that allows "silent" recordings of online calls.

Although Microsoft didn't have any connection to Skype when it applied for the patent, it does deal with, and refer to, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, of which Skype is by far the best known.

The technology aims to mimic the way that officials can monitor and record traditional phone calls with tapping equipment in a way that can't be detected by those involved in the conversation. The patent describes a method by which the data from the Internet would be routed via a third-party that would be able to monitor the call without detection. (Source:

The patent application refers to such technology being used in government surveillance, carried out for lawful and approved purposes. However, there is already concern that the technology could be misused in countries with less stringent regulations on snooping, or that hackers could figure out the technology and abuse the feature.

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