13,750 reasons to doubt Skype

Let me start by saying that I’ve been an advocate and champion of Skype for a long, long while now. Its work to make videoconferencing — a service once reserved for the rich and famous — available to the masses changed my professional life and the work that I do with students.

I regularly connect with teachers and principals who are looking for advice through Skype and my favorite digital project ever paired students in my classroom with a digital mentor in Western Canada to study ecosystems in regularly scheduled bi-weekly Skype sessions.

What’s more, I regularly recommend the Skype in the Classroom website — a pretty awesome digital home working to pair teachers and classes together — to anyone who is interested in finding learning partners from other countries.  By creating it, Skype has done a great service for education because they’ve made cross-border collaboration really doable for the first time.

On a far more personal level, Skype has allowed my 2 year old daughter to know her Grandma and Grandpa — who we’ve Skyped with at least 3 times a week for as long as she’s been alive.  I’ve smiled a million times while watching the love shared between my parents and my daughter on our regular — and completely free — video calls.

But the past month has forced me to question just how much SKYPE is worth loving.

You see, someone hacked into my account — which is also set up to allow me to make cheap domestic and international phone calls from my computer whenever I need to — in early March and started speed-dialing China.

And I’m not talking about one or two random calls, y’all.  I’m talking about close 13,750 MINUTES worth of calls in a MONTH.  That’s like spending 230 hours — or 10 full days — on the telephone.

To put this into perspective, last Sunday — the day I discovered that my account had been hacked — there were 536 INDIVIDUAL CALLS placed to China.  At about 2 cents per minute, my hacker experience ended up costing me almost $225.

Working through the process of trying to get a refund for the unauthorized calls, I learned a bunch of lessons about Skype that have me wondering whether or not I should ever recommend the service to educators again.

Here’s three:

Skype’s customer service department consists of a bunch of FAQ boards and an email address.

Just trying to find advice when you’ve got an issue with your Skype account is darn near impossible. There is NO phone number to call .

More importantly, unless you are a premium subscriber — making you eligible for one-to-one chat support — there’s no synchronous customer service at all.

Everyone else — including people with hacked accounts and hundreds of dollars of unauthorized charges — can poke through lists of frequently asked questions, post messages on community bulletin boards, or send an email and wait for a response.

While I’m sure that this scaled-back approach to serving customers is designed to cut costs and keep services free, as a user, it’s worth noting that choosing a service that cuts corners on customer service means putting yourself in a pretty frustrating position if you ever actually need a bit of help.

Skype is unlikely to reimburse unauthorized charges made against your account.

The biggest surprise in my conversations with Skype over the past week was their initial stand against reimbursing me for the charges against my account.

Their argument was simple: The account breach wasn’t their fault.  It was mine — and it was either the result of a virus on my devices or a password that was too simple and that had gone unchanged for several years.

Now, those are positions that I dispute simply because my devices are all scanned several times a week for viruses and none of my other accounts — including my credit cards and online banking — have been hacked, but that’s irrelevant.

My expectation for paid services that can directly bill my credit card has always been that unauthorized charges — especially in situations as flagrant as mine — will be reimbursed.

That’s not Skype’s policy, though — and that’s something worth thinking about before y’all decide to embrace their service.  If your account is hacked, your chances of getting a refund really aren’t all that good.

Skype seems to have no suspicious account activity monitoring in place.

What worries me the most about this entire incident is that Skype never noticed that a normally dormant account used for 1 or 2 domestic calls a month was suddenly calling CHINA 500+ times a day.

That leads me to believe that despite their claims to “work hard to protect users,” Skype does little to monitor accounts for suspicious activities — a common practice for companies that bill credit cards that would have likely discovered the 200+ hours of calls to China charged to me long before I did.

I’ve asked Skype more than once — both through Twitter and email — about their suspicious account activity monitoring practices.  They haven’t replied.

What does this mean for you?  If you are using Skype, understand that they don’t seem to be doing much to help you to monitor your account. If you are a hyper-vigilant person, that’s probably not a big deal.

But if you’ve grown to expect the services that you embrace to be your partner in protecting you against fraud, Skype may not be the best video-conferencing tool to use.

In the end — and only after making it clear that they were not accepting responsibility for the unauthorized charges against my account — Skype gave me a refund.

I guess I should be happy about that.

But that doesn’t mean I’m ready to encourage anyone else to embrace Skype with open arms.

The fact of the matter is that if you are doing anything OTHER than making free video calls on Skype, you need to be aware of the fact that getting any kind of help in the event that your account is breached is unlikely.

If that’s a risk that you are willing to take in exchange for what is otherwise a solid, feature-rich service, then Skype is still a great option for the digital collaboration that you’re doing.

As for me, I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do yet. 

I like Skype enough as a service that I want to try to move forward with them, but I’m thinking about canceling all of my paid services simply because I’m just not convinced that they’re doing enough to protect my account.

#thatmatters