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Is Skype dangerous? Can anyone see you in your home? Or hear you?

GreeneryGreenery Posts: 975Registered User Member
edited March 2012 in Parent Cafe
One of my kids wants to install "Skype" in my computer...

There is a thread concerning "Pa. school spied on students" using computers!
Can someone, other than my kid, takes pictures of me if I have Skype?

I remember not too long ago the TV news discussed something about having those cameras in the computer...but really did not pay attention.

Can somebody oriented us about the danger, if any, in having "Skype" or any other similar cameras in the computer?
Post edited by Greenery on
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Replies to: Is Skype dangerous? Can anyone see you in your home? Or hear you?

  • WiscoKidWiscoKid Posts: 422Registered User Member
    Like any other online messaging system, be careful who you talk with and you should be fine. Unless you are talking to complete strangers, you really should be fine, I have never heard of anyone with problems
  • nz2011nz2011 Posts: 49Registered User Junior Member
    I heard about that in the news- it was something about the school spying at a kid through the school funded laptops. And I don't think it was related in any way to Skype. It was just the webcam on the laptop.

    As for Skype, just set a lot of privacy settings if you don't want strangers trying to message you or contact you in any way.
  • silverladysilverlady Posts: 343Registered User Member
    We have skype. We use it to talk to our DD who lives in Singapore. Actually, all of my children have it and use it to talk back and forth.

    Unless there is something that can be done that I am not aware of, you can not have random people have pictures taken of you. It is really a phone.

    When my DD and I skype, we set up a time -- or I see that she is online -- and then click the button to call her. We can talk with or without pictures. When the call is over, we just click done -- or whatever. You control everything. It has been wonderful to be able to talk to our daughter who is 12 hours ahead of us. Even better, the call is free. I look forward to when the grandchildren are more willing to do it. They can show me Halloween costumes, and other neat stuff that grandchildren have. I recommend it.
  • GreeneryGreenery Posts: 975Registered User Member
    When you see the other person...how do you know if any other person is watching the two of you...skype is free; are you authorizing the people from skype to see anyone using their services?
  • ChedvaChedva Posts: 20,049Super Moderator Senior Member
    You put their Skype name (which is often the e-mail address) in your Skype address book, and Skype will send them a "contact message" similar to a Facebook friend request. If you don't know them, just decline. If you both agree, you'll get a notification when that person is on line. Others can't see you.

    Can the folks from Skype see you? Maybe. But then again, the folks from AT&T can tap your line too. Neither would be legal.

    If you're concerned, read the Privacy Policy before you download Skype; it'll tell you what you agree to.
  • GreeneryGreenery Posts: 975Registered User Member
    Thanks...Anyone else with experience using that service. I want to see my kids...but want to be sure the experience is fine...without eavesdropper and people without anything to do… except intruding in other people’s lives...or watching them in pajamas...or taking pictures like those kids in the PA school.
  • ucsd_ucla_daducsd_ucla_dad Posts: 8,573Registered User Senior Member
    I use Skype routinely to communicate with a colleague in the UK. It doesn't always work all that well, i.e. it has some communications issues, but it generally works okay. I've also used Microsoft Live Messenger which is also free.

    OP - I'll get a little technical on you here. The camera you attach to your computer (or that is built-in) is a piece of hardware, like a disk drive, that's attached to your computer and accessible through the operating system. Skype, Microsoft Live Messenger, and a number of other programs are 'client' programs that access the webcam, the communications link, the disk drive, etc. through the operating system. They (the camera and the software) are really two separate items.

    Given the above, it's likely not 'Skype', Microsoft's Live Messenger, or similar programs from major vendors who have a lot at stake if it was discovered they weren't secure, that you would need to be concerned about but rather, a rogue application that activates the webcam unknown to the user, like what happened with the schoolkids.

    Some advice -

    - Use Skype, Microsoft Live Messenger or a similar app from a 'major' software vendor to be able to communicate remotely, including internationally, for free. Free is good.

    - Use the video capabilities of the above since it adds another dimension to the 'call'.

    - Realize that if your kids are at college they might be less motivated than you to do a video session - i.e. it's too much trouble or they might prefer to not be seen or it might infringe on the privacy of theor roomie.

    - If you're going to buy a webcam, get something like the Logitech 9000 Pro that lights up when it's activated so you'll always know (assuming you're roughly looking at it).

    - If you're concerned about privacy or a rogue application activating your webcam unknowingly, simply place something in front of the webcam's lense or disconnect it when you're not using it.
  • GreeneryGreenery Posts: 975Registered User Member
    ucsd_ucla_Dad: My kid informed me that my computer has the capabilities; I don't have to buy a webcam...just download the program from the Skype site for free...and that's all.
    Are we talking about the same issue? If I don't need a webcam..do I need to cover the screen when I'm not talking with my kid in skype?

    My concern is if in having "Skype" I'm opening the doors to eavesdroppers when I'm not talking with my kids? Should I cover the screen or close the computer if I'm not in Skype?
    Thanks...ucsd_ucla_dad or anyone with knowledge about this!
  • tango14tango14 Posts: 1,578Registered User Senior Member
    I use Skype on a daily basis. It really is like a phone. You don't "see" the other person unless you "call" them and they answer or vice versa. Since the video call takes a lot more bandwidth than just spoken calls or chat, I turn my camera off unless I specifically want a video chat.

    It's wonderful for us. My MIL is in Europe and we used to spend over $100/month for weekly phone calls. Now for $12.95 / mo we can call her phone line from our computer. She and H talk on a daily basis for an hour or more.

    Our kids prefer to text but we do call them on Skype when we are in Europe and they are at home.
  • HImomHImom Posts: 19,182Registered User Senior Member
    My kids use skype and have not had problems with it. We all use cell phones to talk amongst ourselves, but D uses skype so she & her friends can "see" each other when they chat together. They are scattered all over, including the east coast, LA & the midwest. It has helped them keep in touch. Have not heard of anyone having privacy issues with Skype, ever.
  • ucsd_ucla_daducsd_ucla_dad Posts: 8,573Registered User Senior Member
    Greenery,

    Given what your kid said your computer has a built-in webcam. If so then your question really has nothing to do with Skype, which is just one software application that might make use of your webcam, but rather, that you have a webcam that you're concerned 'some' software app might take over and be used to spy on you. Although this is unlikely, it's possible so I suggest -

    - Install Skype and get it working in video mode. You should be able to get it fairly anonymously. If they ask for details (I can't remember if they do) just don't fill that part in or just put in something not real.

    - See if when you used Skype there was some indicator either on the webcam or on the system tray of the display or something indicating the webcam was in use. This indicator needs to not be from Skype but rather something just for the webcam. If you see a reasonable indicator then you can use that to know whether the webcam is in use or not.

    - See if your webcam has a built-in physical 'shade' or 'cover' that covers the lens. On a laptop the webcam is usually just above the screen in the center (so when the laptop cover is closed or tilted down the camera isn't showing much).

    - If there's no shade/cover or indicator and you're really concerned about this then get a piece of black electrical tape or masking tape and stick it over the front of the webcam lens but make sure it doesn't actually stick to the glass/plastic lens itself or else it might decrease the image quality when you want to use it.

    - I guess I shouldn't tell you about the fact that your computer likely also has a microphone and that could also be used in a similar manner to the webcam to hear you. In fact, Skype (and others) can be used in strictly an audio mode if you want.

    The bottom line - Skype itself won't open any doors that I've ever heard of and if their software ever did it'd be big news and probably the end of them. It's the software you don't know about and that you don't know is running on your computer that you should be concerned about although even this is unlikely and nothing to lose a great deal of sleep over. You should feel confident using Skype and there's no reason to avoid it. If you're concerned about video eavesdropping then cover the webcam lens and make sure your microphone is turned off (usually done through the PC's interface).
  • BunsenBurnerBunsenBurner Posts: 17,355Registered User Senior Member
    Can the folks from Skype see you? Maybe. But then again, the folks from AT&T can tap your line too. Neither would be legal.

    Hmmm... This is what I heard, pease correct me if I'm off base here. Any text or e-mail you send is kept by ATT and the like (of course, one has to have a search warrant to get them). But if your phone provider starts recording your conversations, that provider will get into a lot of hot water. So where does Skype fall? Is it a phone call or data transfer?
  • ucsd_ucla_daducsd_ucla_dad Posts: 8,573Registered User Senior Member
    Skype is a data transfer but then so is a 'regular' phone call nowadays that really ends up digitized and sent as data packets although for a landline this is done at the phone company switching office (it's different for cell phones). As far as the legal question of 'tapping' Skype versus the phone call, I don't know the answer to that.

    Emails are kept on mail servers for a period of time determined by the system and also the user. For example, if one uses gmail, hotmail, yahoo, etc. the email is kept on a server at those corporate locations as long as the user chooses to keep the emails. When the user deletes the email the company likely eventually purges it from the system since they want to free up the storage space. When it comes to company email on a company email system it can be a different story because companies sometimes keep a record of all emails that go through their systems for legal purposes and are becoming increasingly obliged to.

    But Skype and the like aren't much different than browsing the internet where the data is all broken up into small 'packets' and then sent piecemeal to the other end, sometimes through different paths and even arriving in a different order (and then the receiving computer reassembles the packets in the proper order). Unless one is capturing all the packet traffic it'd be very hard to 'eavesdrop'.

    Again, although the OP's question of a webcam being hijacked is valid, it isn't the Skype application itself that'll do it and it can be mitigated with blocking the lens with a piece of tape or something.
  • BunsenBurnerBunsenBurner Posts: 17,355Registered User Senior Member
    Yup, webcams can be dealt with easily - show me a hacker that can beat a band-aid or a Post-it :D
  • srwsrw Posts: 1,477Registered User Senior Member
    We use skype regularly with our son and have no problems or anything weird, I really don't think anyone has been spying on us. We have a Logitech camera so we could tell if it was on when we weren't on skype, it never happened If we felt the need our camera has a manual shutter on it.
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