When a rival does something heinous, ignorant or just inevitably cynical, it’s tempting to (try to) take advantage.
So when Facebook announced last week that WhatsApp users either had to agree that the app would share more of their data with Facebook by February 8 or be excommunicated from WhatsApp, Microsoft couldn’t help itself.
Suddenly, here was Redmond protesting that its services are more privacy-conscious. Well, one of its services. Well, Skype.
In a serendipitous tweet on the Skype account, users were told: “Skype respects your privacy. We are committed to keeping your personal data private and do not sell to 3rd parties.”
This came with a link to Microsoft’s privacy statement. (Sample wording: “We also obtain data about you from third parties.”)
Perhaps some might have seen this as a noble, as well as commercial, message.
Anyone who suggests that Facebook is to privacy what Kanye West is to reticence surely has the respect of many.
Yet Twitterers who responded to Skype’s sudden bravado weren’t inspired. There were criticisms of Skype’s slowness on mobile, its tendency to demand your private phone number and even its past troubles with, oh, privacy.
It’s worth, of course, considering why Skype exists at all. Hasn’t Teams become what Skype was supposed to be, but never quite made it?
With the sudden onset of working from home, everyone was Zooming when they could have been — at least theoretically — Skypeing.
Indeed, my ZDNet colleagues recently offered a detailed exposition of why Skype is an unhappy relic of freedom-loving times. The bugginess, the spam, the constant updates. None of this earned Skype affection. Or respect.
Conversely, WhatsApp’s whole ethos was based around ease and encryption. How sad, indeed, that Microsoft thinks Skype — of all its products — could somehow replace that. WhatsApp vs Skype is like Steph Curry vs Jake Paul. It doesn’t even seem like the same sport.
Why, Elon Musk insists your best choice is Signal.
In any case, Facebook has been siphoning off data from WhatsApp for quite some time already. The latest announcement just made that process more grotesquely grabby. Why would Microsoft suddenly think that anyone would suddenly think Skype is a fine option?
Perhaps it’s better to do something than nothing. Could it be, though, that Microsoft is also trying to align itself with Apple’s hardline stance against Facebook, but in more muted tones?
At least, you might still insist, Skype doesn’t sell your data to third parties. This may be because, unlike Facebook, its business isn’t advertising.
I still worry that Skype is simply past it.
It’s instructive, indeed, how Microsoft sees Skype these days. The Skype Twitter profile offers this description: “The next generation of Skype from Microsoft gives you better ways to chat, call, and plan fun things to do with the people in your life every day.”
I can’t see anything about privacy there, can you?