What Does Microsoft And Skype Have In Common? Why Prism Of Course


A report from the Guardian has brought to light the level of collaboration between Microsoft, it’s newly acquired Skype service, and the NSA Prism program. These facts were lifted from Edward Snowden’s whistle blowing efforts. Initially Google, Apple, and Facebook were heavily implicated in providing the NSA user data since the inception of the Prism program in 2007. It’s recently been revealed that Microsoft and Skype allowed the NSA nearly unadulterated access to several highly utilized consumer services.

It seems the NSA became concerned they wouldn’t be able to intercept encrypted chats on Microsoft’s Outlook portal when the company began to test the service in July of last year. A later document states that, through Microsoft’s cooperation with the FBI, that a satisfactory means of data collection was created and successfully tested. Two months later, February of 2013, Microsoft officially launched it’s Outook portal. It’s stated that Microsoft had provided the NSA pre-encryption stage access to emails on it’s Outlook and Hotmail services. Access to the companies SkyDrive cloud storage service was also provided, SkyDrive is now used by more than 250 million users worldwide. It doesn’t even end there.

Microsoft’s newly acquired Skype service, which will handle chat interactions on the upcoming Xbox One, as well as providing Skype video chat via Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral has been providing the NSA data since February of 2011. That indicates Skype begun it’s participation in Prism eight months prior to being acquired by Microsoft. One document boasts that Prism monitoring of Skype video production has nearly tripled since a new capability was added to the service on July 14th 2012. What follows is a quote from the document,

“The audio portions of these sessions have been processed correctly all along, but without the accompanying video. Now, analysts will have the complete ‘picture’,”

The implications brought on by this information are far reaching. In particular it begs the question of Microsoft’s real motivation to package it’s Kinect sensor with every Xbox One console. Microsoft has gone on record saying that Kinect will be in a standby mode until it receives certain audio cues to begin ‘listening’. Skype is now set to handle all voice and video interactions on the Xbox One device, and as we’ve just learned Skype has been feeding the NSA data for quite a while now. This creates the speculation that Microsoft may not have been looking to create the next generation of entertainment, instead creating the next generation of monitoring the populous.

GameInformer has received several lengthy statements from Microsoft refuting the allegations,

“We have clear principles which guide the response across our entire company to government demands for customer information for both law enforcement and national security issues,” a Microsoft representative told Game Informer. “First, we take our commitments to our customers and to compliance with applicable law very seriously, so we provide customer data only in response to legal processes. Second, our compliance team examines all demands very closely, and we reject them if we believe they aren’t valid. Third, we only ever comply with orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond to the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few weeks, as the volumes documented in our most recent disclosure clearly illustrate”


“To be clear, Microsoft does not provide any government with blanket or direct access to SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Skype or any Microsoft product. Finally when we upgrade or update products legal obligations may in some circumstances require that we maintain the ability to provide information in response to a law enforcement or national security request. There are aspects of this debate that we wish we were able to discuss more freely. That’s why we’ve argued for additional transparency that would help everyone understand and debate these important issues.”

Our take on the issue is simple. Silicon Valley and major communications providers are at the whim of the U.S. Government in the same manner as you and I. Prism is undoubtedly and unethical practice that potentially violates our privacy in more ways than we’re currently aware of. The fact that Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, and other U.S. based internet giants have all been implicated basically means you have to move to a secluded cabin in the woods with no connection to the outside world to avoid Prism. Programs like Prism have been present in one form or another since the beginning of time. From more contemporary examples like Russia’s KGB and the Nazi Gestapo, to the Roman Frumentarii, there’s always been a secret surveillance effort in one form or another. At this point we’ve made it incredibly easy for a program like Prism to exist. The collection of data has simply become easier to execute due to our technology appetites. The comfort and convenience of the modern world have pitfalls of their own. We can choose to go back to living off the grid and shun the modern world, or we can #dealwithit. Lord Vary’s would be proud.

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Dylan Zellmer

Dylan splits time between games journalism, designing video games, and playing them. Outside of his deep involvement in the games industry, he enjoys It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Shameless, A Song of Ice and Fire, fitness, and family.
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