Tag: voip

State trojan will see heads roll in Germany

On Saturday, Germany’s Chaos Computer Club (CCC) released a detailed analysis of the so-called Bundestrojaner (Federal Trojan) used by various police forces to spy on suspects.

According to the CCC, the trojan was in breach of tight limits determind by Germany’s highest court, the Federal Constitutional Court.

Rules imposed by the court limit any sort of trojan employed by police and intelligence services to surveillance of VoIP, i.e. voice chats over Skype. However, it appears the police have ignored the Federal Constitutional Court’s order by using an insecure and shoddily programmed trojan offering more features than is allowed.

Apart from being badly programmed and insecure, the trojan also allows various modules to be downloaded and installed. Theoretically, investigators would be able to search HDDs and manipulate data. As for shoddy programming, commands transmitted to the trojan are not encrypted, only one single key was used for all the trojans. Data transferred from PCs and commands were routed over a server in the USA, outside of German law.

The trojan, labelled R2D2 by various antivirus outfits due to the inclusion of C3PO, R2D2 and POE in the code, was pieced together by a German company called Digitask. In 2002, the company’s former CEO and owner was sentenced to 21 months probation and a 1.5 million euro fine for bribing state employees at the Customs Criminal Office in Cologne.

The company renamed itself from Reuter Leiterplatten GmbH to DigiTask GmbH and once more enjoys selling services to state agencies. Cryptome.org managed to lay its hands on a small presentation by the company.

One of the trojans analysed by the CCC was forwarded to the club by German lawyer Patrick Schladt. Bavarian state police were investigating one of his clients on drug-related charges and installed a trojan on his PC, which forwarded screenshots to investigators which were in clear breach of the law. A court later determined the police had no legal basis to do so.

Furthermore, the Bavarian police shouldn’t have made use of a trojan to monitor the client. The Federal Constitutional Court limited not only the means of surveillance, but also in which cases a trojan may be used by state authorities.

Cases are limited to the most serious crimes and terrorism. The client being monitored was a drug distributor whose crime may or may not have been shipping medicines to distribute in Germany, but perhaps not legal to export. Terrorism or serious crime, this is not.

The Bavarian police recently also hit the news in Germany for various cases of police brutality.

One of the cases saw a 14 year old youth losing teeth as a result of a police beating, and his head smashed against a wall. The conservative ruling party in Bavaria, the CSU (Christian Social Union), ignored the case until press reports led to public and political pressure.

Bavaria was not the only federal state to use the trojan.

Baden-Württemberg used it, however its Green-Labour coalition government has stopped. In Brandenburg, it has been used to monitor a suspect against facing an international arrest warrant. Berlin has not used a trojan, due to legal concerns.

Germany has a political scandal brewing which will influence upcoming elections. Heads are set to roll, especially in Bavaria where the trojan has been used in clear breach of law.

The Pirate Party is set to profit. Recent polls have seen the party at nine percent, and voter approval can only be expected to grow in the following weeks and months. Should Angela Merkel’s conservative-liberal coalition drop dead before the next election, the situation will become very interesting.

Votes for the Pirate Party will mean less for the Social Democrats and Germany’s Green Party, who are more or less expected to form the next coalition government. The most likely  outcome will be either a grand coalition government between Christian and Social Democrats, or a coalition between Social Democrats, Greens and – hold your breath – Pirates.

This is a reasonable scenario, should the Social Democrats and Greens suffer losses to the Pirate Party.

It would indeed be a political earthquake if the Pirate Party pass the five percent barrier required for a seat in the Bundestag, the German Federal Parliament.

Such a result would pressure established parties to become competent in technology and place more scrutiny on the law. Lobbying would be hit hard, while the democratic process would be strengthened.

It wouldn’t be far-fetched to recognise the Pirate Party as a replacement for the liberal Free Democrats as an upholder of civil rights in the 21st century.

Skype disappoints us, disappointingly

After experiencing first-hand what Skype’s attitude to fraud is, how it approaches its users’ security, and what kind of system is in place for refunding fraudulent calls made through its service – we’re frankly worried.

First, some background. On January 13 a number of fraudulent calls appeared on my account when I logged in. These were made to Indonesia and Egypt to numbers I did not recognise. They were also made when I was offline. Further calls were made when I was online, until I changed my password, which logged both me and the hacker out.

Not only was my Skype credit depleted as a result of the unauthorised calls, the Auto-recharge feature, which I had disabled, had been turned on and was used to charge the credit card which was stored in my Skype account – so that further credit could be bought and used without my permission.

Obviously fraud is something that happens, regardless of how safe we attempt to be or think we are, but what we do to prevent it and fix the situation when it arises is important. This is where Skype failed to such a large extent that a question mark was raised, at least for this scribbler, on the security of using its service and how well its customer support treats its paying customers.

When I reported the fraud to Skype, it was suggested that a keylogger may be on my computer or that I may have been the victim of a phishing site, which, while valid concerns, simply were not the case. Not only do I keep regularly updated antivirus, anti-spyware, firewalls and similar software, my passwords are all different for different sites and services, are difficult to guess or bypass through brute force, and are frequently changed. 

I ran all of my security software immediately after becoming aware of the hack and tried alternatives to see if a keylogger was on my computer, but nothing turned up. My email was not compromised, nor was anything else that I use, which means that the issue was with Skype alone.

Skype also refused to refund the fraudulent calls, saying: “Unfortunately, Skype is unable to refund any money that may have been lost because of this incident.” As you can imagine, this is not a satisfactory response for a customer – Skype was the vehicle through which the fraudulent calls were made. 

I pushed the matter further, asking numerous questions about Skype’s security, particularly why multiple people could sign into a single account at the same time. It was only after mentioning that I was a journalist that I got a “We’ve had to reverse your order” email three days later, refunding the charge to my card that was fraudulently made through Auto-recharge. 

However, Skype was still refusing to refund my initial balance, which was now wiped to €0. The log of the calls to Indonesia and Egypt was also now inaccessible, making it impossible for me to view them and calculate how much was spent on my account.

I decided to escalate the matter to Skype’s public relations team. Skype Support proved so unsatisfactory. I raised the point that since Auto-recharge could not be permanently disabled and since Skype allows credit card details to be stored within its system and charged via Auto-recharge, it appears that it is facilitating this form of fraud.

When coupled with the fact that Skype was so vehemently refusing to refund the amount, it also appeared that Skype was happy to take illicitly gained dosh from me.

TechEye spoke to Adrian Asher, Chief Information Security Officer at Skype, who denied this. “I can assure you that Skype does not profit from nor intends to profit from fraudulent activity,” he said. “We take instances of customer fraud very seriously and continue to invest significantly in anti-fraud measures to protect them.”

Asher also addressed a number of other concerns I raised over the security of using Skype. I was particularly concerned over multiple simultaneous logins to a single account and the inability to permanently disable Auto-recharge.

Skype Support told me that multiple logins to a single account is a “deliberate feature” and that “no security risk is posed”. It was not explained to me how this was safe, given another individual was able to use my account while I was online.

Asher gave a more detailed response on this concern. “Multi-IP log-ins are designed to allow a user to log-in to Skype from multiple devices no matter where they are. This is designed to be a feature that allows convenience and accessibility. Many Skype customers utilise this functionality to its full capacity. Our product teams continue to refine these features so that we can ensure situations like yours don’t occur. Auto-recharge is another example of an intuitive function designed to make life easier for customers with the aim to ensure that they have Credit readily available to make calls. Again, while there are pitfalls we want to fix them where possible.”

I’m sure this is a very useful feature for some, but my concern was that if I can log in from multiple locations, even at the same time, it opens more doors for abuse by hackers without it kicking you offline or telling them “You are already logged in.”

I pressed this issue further with Asher, asking why it never showed up on Skype’s fraud radar that I had logged in from Ireland and another location at the same time. He said: “Using geographical data to track log-in locations is an area that has been considered. However, the fact that a large percentage of our user-base travels between countries extensively means that we do not currently offer this functionality to restrict which country your account can be logged in from. Our security systems constantly analyse and attempt to identify any out of pattern behaviour to try and minimise any impact of a customer’s account being taken over.”

The problem with Auto-recharge I found was that, in my case, I had disabled it – but it was so easily re-enabled at the click of a button. A Skype spokesperson initially tried to suggest that this could only be accessed after entering your password, but if your account has been hacked your password has already been compromised and offers no additional layer of protection for setting up the service.

Why isn’t it possible to permanently disable Auto-recharge? On two grounds: to prevent this kind of fraud abuse and as a parental control system. For example, it could easily be used by kids using their parent’s Skype account to charge their parent’s card for calls to friends.

In response to this Asher said: “I understand the risk that you are detailing here and must admit that this is one of the first requests that we’ve had for this capability to be locked out. Auto-recharge has been developed, like all of our features, to meet customer demand. One way to achieve what you are describing would be to add your credit card to a PayPal account and then you can perform funding via this method. As long as you don’t set up a PayPal agreement there is no ability for repeat billing.

“As a parent of a ten year old boy I am all too aware of the potential dangers of the internet so I appreciate the scenario that you are detailing. Our advice in the first instance is always that young children should not be left unsupervised to use the Internet. That having been said, the balance of a child’s account could be provided via PayPal, which as before would remove the capability to auto top up.”

This is a kind of work-around which will disable Auto-recharge, but it also means that there will be PayPal fees involved. It’s also a particularly inelegant way to avoid the problems at hand, but at least there is an option available for those like me who would like to use Skype, but are concerned about storing their details and having them abused through Auto-recharge.

I was getting conflicting and contradictory messages from Skype Support and Skype’s public relations team. It should be noted that at this stage, after having contacted Skype PR, my Skype Credit balance was fully refunded for those fraudulent calls – despite Skype Support telling me it would not be refunded.

In fact, on the same day I contacted Skype PR I decided to contact Skype Support again about the issue of them not refunding me. It took two days for them to respond, by which time a refund was already given from contacting PR. Yet, Skype Support still told me: “Unfortunately we are not able to refund any money that may have been lost due to this incident.” We appreciate the help of the PR team but at the same time the average user is likely to lose out.

Interestingly, the reason for the delayed response from Skype Support given was: “We apologise for the delay in our response, due to an unexpected increase in the number of recent inquiries, it has taken us longer than usual to respond to you.” We can only guess what these “recent inquiries” are.

I asked Asher why contradictory messages on refunds were given from different departments within Skype, to which he responded: “We always intend to resolve every customer service issue to the customer’s satisfaction, regardless of who they are. Given that you were not satisfied with the outcome on this occasion we dealt with this case exactly as we would any other, and hope that you will continue to use Skype.”

As for whether or not I will continue to use Skype, I will. We use it at TechEye to share ideas, comments, and general chit-chat. What has changed for me is that I am no longer willing to store my credit card details in Skype, but will use PayPal instead. If a refund was not afforded, however, I would have been reluctant to buy Skype Credit – since it could easily have been wiped again.

I was also left wondering if this situation would have remained unresolved for me if I had not escalated it and if I was not a journalist. Skype Support proved unhelpful and uncooperative. I would like to think that an average customer would have found the same resolution as I did, with card charges and credit balances refunded and restored, because every customer deserves this kind of satisfactory treatment. I cannot honestly say that I believe this would be the case.

The question still hangs over the cases of other customers who were faced with the cut and paste “no refunds” policy.

Skype is still legal in China

Skype’s Chinese partner is backing the internet based calling company, claiming that it complies with the country’s law.

The TOM group has come to its cousin’s defence as China moves to crackdown on illegal internet telephone providers, which could complicate Skype’s operations in the country.

“The operation of Skype in China is compliant with local laws and regulations,” a TOM Group spokeswoman told Reuters. “Currently, it is business as usual while service provision stays normal.”

The VoIP wars began back in December when head honchos at the Ministry of Information and Industry Technology decided to outlaw companies providing these service, apart from those provided by China Telecom and China Unicom. It decided to do this for two reasons. Firstly to ensure its own national companies stayed coushty and secondly because these companies, which are state owned, are easy to regulate and monitor. In contrast Skype calls are encrypted making it hard for authorities to snoop.

And this encryption has also caused trouble over in India, which is also keeping a beady eye on the company. Similarly to the problems going on with Blackberrys, Indian authorities are concerned that the service poses a snooping difficulty for the domestic intelligence services because its services are encrypted. It says that any company providing telecom services in India must make those communications available to Indian security services.

We contacted Skype to find out to see what it had to say on all this malarkey. It told us: “Users in China currently can access Skype via TOM Online, our majority JV partner.

“TOM Online offers local versions of Skype for Windows, MAC as well as mobile platforms such as Symbian and Windows Mobile. More details can be found at skype.tom.com. Users can also get the Skype for iPhone app, but it is an older version and we are in the process of working with TOM to provide the latest version.”

However it said that it would not speculate on China’s policies and its future actions regarding the availability of Skype in this region.  Nor would it comment on any Indian legal issues. We asked what these may be but at the time of publishing Skype wasn’t feeling very chatty. ,

Skype and Facebook integration could be on the cards

Take that, GoogleCisco darling and enemy of Murdoch’s BSkypeB, er, BSkyB Skype could be  talking to Zuckerberg’s gang about VoIP integration with Facebook. It’s cool – further to cyber stalking you could have the option to leave threatening, creepy voicemails via VoIP too, and that’s just what the internet needs.

Google recently launched its VoIP service on Gmail and Google chat. Rival-but-not-really Facebook seems to be thinking it fancies a slice of the action too, and its expertly angled social approach could mean a big win for both Skype and The Social Notwork. Internet is alllll the rage. As IPTV hops up on the agenda so does VoIP and anything else which can be delivered efficiently and effectively through broadband – and why not? It’s good.

All Things Digital copped a screenshot of the supposed service. It’s here. As always with the excitable tech press, us included, there’s every chance that it could be a mash-up by anyone with a degree of Photoshop knowledge. However, looking at it – which suggests Facebook contacts direct in the Skype software client – it looks nice and, well, why not? Dosh could be an issue. While security could be an issue, if it’s real and it’s opt in, then we see no reason why infosec analysts would shout from the rooftops. 

It could all be fake. The cynicism and jadedness of the modern tech journalist knows no bounds, but let’s wait and see. In the meantime, TechEye is adding “Rachel S. Daniels”, just in case… 

How and why telephones are going to get a whole lot better

We can fly to the Moon but we can’t have a phone call with reasonable quality. Why? TechEye talks to Xconnect’s Eli Katz on how we can hear each other better and what’s in the pipeline for telecoms the world over.

Back in 1936 – 74 years ago – boffins accepted that about 3.3Khz was the accepted frequency that telephone calls are going to run on and it’s been like that, generally, ever since. Call quality is reasonable but leaves a lot to be desired. Think calls from Skype to Skype where quality is often crystal clear. 

But actually, call delivery which features excellent quality and a much higher frequency is completely possible. It’s essentially, in simple terms, the same change media went through when ditching the analogue tape for CD and IP calls are the catalyst for that change. HD Voice is the way forward and it’s going to be good.

IP and HD voice has taken off in the States and in Asia but the UK and Europe has been slower to adopt. Orange just announced that it’s going to take the leap which is in a sense making not just one leap, but two – since mobile phone calls are generally of poorer quality than landline, taking the jump into HD voice is gung-ho but a good idea. Eli Katz tells us that most new Private Branch Exchanges (or PBX) and handsets are equipped to work with HD voice, it’s just the matter of setting up the service on networks and tweaking acoustics appropriately.

And for businesses which want HD on their PBX, the price is almost marginal – just a couple of dollars more could make all the difference for call quality. 

The technology for HD Voice has been around for a couple of years already, but only seen adoption that brings it to the forefront in the last six months or so though we’re told that in the widest sense of the telecoms industry, adoption is happening on way or another. Migration is already happening and that includes fixed line, mobile, web, Skype, enterprise PBXs, Apple Facetime – anything you can think of. HD Voice is just one of the “new services” that is delivered by IP now. The old legacy stuff is rubbish for video calling and the like.

It’s a small matter of getting the networks to play ball and have the right telco exchanges and systems in place for it to start getting widespread usage. That is where Xconnect comes in – but we’re told that everyone’s playing ball. Xconnect has some very high profile customers many of which can’t be named because of the curse of the Non Disclosure Agreement, but some we do know about are Korea Telecom and a long list of tier ones in the States as well as cable operators in the Netherlands.

“The challenge is that, despite the technology on the way to toward adoption, the underlying interconnect structure hasn’t really changed,” Katz tells us. “Take Skype as an example. Skype to Skype offers a healthy range of services, it uses super-wideband on audio and obviously there is video. But all of those services are only available on Skype to Skype. So if you use Skype out or in, you lose that all and go to what is literally the lowest common denominator, you go back to plain voice call only, back to 3.3Khz.”

The reason, says Xconnect, is that the underlying structure has not kept up with the technology being developed. It’s understandable – when SMS text messages first did the rounds it was initially only available within the same network as the service provider. If you were on T-Mobile, you could only text message others on T-Mobile. The next step was to figure out an interconnect mechanism on a cross network basis.

The benefits of cross network interconnects speak for themselves. Just take a look at how popular SMSing is now – first it could be used nationally and now it’s a global standard. 
The word on the telco street is that with the “new” services, the IP based services, similar steps are being taken to sort out cross networks. The next step, beyond offering the services to customers, is bringing it all together – and that’s where Xconnect comes in.

At the moment Xconnect reckons it’s leading the way on IP interconnections. A driver for using Xconnect’s services is Federation, which has backing from important sounding telecoms networks. If a service provider is still at the regular, voice only service, it’ll want to seek an IP connection base through Federation. This works on a hub and spoke network model and, contrary to older legacy systems, it will take information on the most direct route. The older network models will usually take four or five hops to get to their destination – and that impacts on the end quality as well as cost.

Federation, which has been adopted by the GSM Association (GSMA), takes the most efficient and direct route. For new services, it’s basically the only mechanism that can be used, and it takes two core concepts. Firstly it uses something called ENUM which is essentially like a yellow pages database for delivery points. It figures out where the perfect delivery point for the service in the world is and  heads straight there. It maps telephone addresses to an IP world. Multimedia Interconnect backs it all up and is used to deal with any technical, commercial or contractual challenges.

Basically Federation is more efficient and scalable. It has more support for new services and is the nuts and bolts of the telephony world that’s just emerging and beginning to make its way to the front line of both consumer and business minds. 

As well as Xconnect, Katz is founder of the Internet Telephony Services Providers’ Association and Xconnect has the backing of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. 

We thought we’d ask him about LTE and WiMAX. He did not comment on which technology is going to gain the upper-hand but he did tell us that the Federation interconnect is going to be vital for the technologies. Any operators who want to go for it just have to be ready themselves, as it’s waiting to be used in addition to the other 200 providers it supports. 

In the meantime we asked what’s next for Xconnect – Katz told us that the next focus will be on video.

Growth is happening across all segments, consumer, business and enterprise. We can expect services like HD Voice to really up the game and make telephony a better experience, in the workplace and at home.

Operators in the UK are beginning to take on the idea and we’ll see a push over the next couple of years. And like what happened with SMS, they’ll be on the same wavelength soon enough.

*EyeSee – With video next on the agenda, we mentioned Cisco which has recently been acquiring companies left right and centre. It’s gearing up for an announcement at IBC 2010 in Amsterdam on video. We asked Katz if he knew what Cisco was up to and if it is going to release something that’ll blow the industry away. He said: “Rest assured, that is a safe assumption to make.” We didn’t get any more than that but watch this space. 

HP introduces small business server suite

HP has announced today a new suite of products for small to medium business, including an entry-level server.

The “Just Right IT” portfolio includes the HP ProLiant MicroServer, a quiet, energy-efficient server that is aimed at businesses with 10 employees or less. It has an AMD Athlon II processor, 8GB of maximum memory, and comes with a one year warranty. It should retail for around $329.

HP is also introducing a number of affordable options for companies wanting to improve the use of their servers.

For monitoring and managing virtualised servers and storage, HP is offering HP Insight with Microsoft System Center Essential 2010, which comes with HP support.

For improving server bandwidth, there is the HP StorageWorks P2000 G3 Modular Smart Array, with 10GbE iSCSI capabilities. HP advertises a 10 time increase in bandwidth through the use of this product.

For moving to shared storage, HP is providing the P4000 Virutal SAN Appliance software, which it says is the only way for moving from virtualised servers to shared storage without buying physical storage area network infrastructure.

For server backups, HP is offering the Data Protector Express 5.0 software, which allows quick and easy backups of important information.

HP is also supplying new offerings in the VoIP and wireless market, with the V-M200 802.11n Access Point Series allowing up to 64 active mobile users on a single network at time, with added network security. There’s also the VCX 9.5 IP Telephony system with 350x IP Phones for conferencing, and the Virtualisation Smart Bundles with Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2, which offers a complete virtualisation environment with storage, servers, and networking technology.

Another product in the series is the Officejet Pro 8500A e-All-in-One and Officeject 7500A Wide Format e-All-in-One printers, which come with ePrint and webc connectivity. HP says these printers can deliver the same quality printouts at up to 50 percent less cost than laser printers, which might make them very appealing to paper-heavy industries.

HP is also offering a new set of business desktop PCs, the 500B and 505B series, which come with Windows 7, configurable hard drives, and various ports for added connectivity.

HP says the “Just Right IT” range is aimed at providing just the right price to meet the needs of small to medium businesses, allowing them to upgrade without having to pay out for larger servers and services they don’t really need.

Cisco wants to buy Skype

Just as a battle of internet call services begins to brew between Google and Skype, Cisco has waded into the fray with an offer to acquire Skype, which could potentially give it a big boost against the search giant’s entry into the market.

The news came through a source close to Michael Arrington at TechCrunch, which he said is “reliable”.

The timing of this move by Cisco, if true, is appropriate, as Skype filed an initial public offering (IPO) earlier this month which means that Cisco needs to get in there with an acquisition offer before the IPO process completes.

Cisco announced plans to buy ExtendMedia last week, partially aimed at improving its video conferencing offer. With Skype introducing video conferencing in May this may partly explain Cisco’s interest in buying it.

Insider information from Skype suggests an evaluation of the company at around $5 billion, which means Cisco would have to fork over big bucks if Skype is to hand over the reins.

When Skype filed its IPO with the US Security and Exchange Commission in early August, it planned to sell off $100 million worth of the company, the first step in making it a public firm. However, if the evaluation of $5 billion is true, it means only a fraction of the company will actually be in public hands.

It is not certain if this is just the first wave of sales Skype plans or whether it just needed to generate a large amount of capital very quickly, but it does raise some interesting questions about the future directions for the company. It has the choice of going semi-public, fully public, or selling up into private hands under Cisco. Are we about to have a bidding war on our hands?

Arrington reports that Google is interested in buying Skype. This makes a lot of sense, as it has recently launched its own VoIP offering. Arrington said that antitrust concerns may have been a blocking factor, however, particularly considering that they are now two of the biggest rivals in the call market.

Google’s Voice service, which it integrated into Gmail last week, is a serious contender to Skype’s throne, with users making one million calls in the first 24 hours of its Gmail launch alone. We asked Skype if it would reveal its own call figures for comparison then, but it was too busy shaking in its boots.

With the might of Cisco behind it Skype may stand a better chance against Big G. It remains to be seen if the offer comes to light or if Skype is prepared to accept it, but what is certain is that a lot of big names are seeing lots of dollar signs in the VoIP market.

How Google's call feature could be an affront to privacy

Google recently launched a new Gmail feature that allows users to call telephone numbers around the world from directly within Gmail. It’s a direct challenge to Skype’s domination over the internet call market. With Google’s fingers firmly entrenched in every pie, it creates a worrying trend for everyone’s privacy.

For those who doubt the possible exodus from Skype to Google we have only to look at a statistic released today by Google itself: “Over 1,000,000 calls placed from Gmail in just 24 hours!” That’s a lot of calls.

Of course, Gmail has 175 million monthly users and many of them may have been tempted to try out the new feature on launch day, so potentially those call numbers could go down when the novelty wears off. Or, the numbers might go up, as the feature is currently only available to US users. When Google finally launches it around the world we can expect a further boom to calls which may give Skype a serious run for its money.

TechEye spoke to Skype to see how threatened it felt by Google’s entry into the market, but it fobbed us off: “In regards to Google’s new Gmail calling feature, unfortunately Skype isn’t in a position to be able to comment at this time.”

We also asked if it could provide call figures to compare them with Google’s statistics, but Skype said it “cannot release calling statistics”. The reluctance to comment and reveal statistics makes us wonder if Skype really is worried about Big G stepping on its turf.

The problem for Skype is that Google is now offering free calls to and within the United States and Canada – and calls as low as $0.02 per minute to most of Europe. Skype’s US rates are around $0.024 per minute, while the EU rates are €0.02 per minute. That’s roughly the same price and still much less than using a standard telephone, but the free calls in the US and Canada clearly give it the advantage in that region.

Calls to European mobiles, however, are significantly more expensive, such as $0.18 per minute to the UK but that’s still cheaper than Skype does ’em.

Money talks. If Google eventually rolls out free calls in more regions, since it gets so much dosh from advertising anyway, people will flock to it in droves regardless of what potential privacy invasions may result.And there may be many.

Firstly, Google can send you text transcripts of your voicemail straight to your email account, which sounds handy at face value, but means that it now becomes another message for Google to trawl through, like it can do with all Gmail messages. This means, if it wants, and it does, it can present more targeted ads based on your voice conversations.

It also opens doors for Schmidt’s gang to monitor and save your voice chat, which sounds just a little bit like phone tapping. Speaking of phone tapping, we shouldn’t forget Google’s links with the CIA.

Secondly, the privacy risk may not come from Google itself. TechEye Teuton John W. Daly reckons: “The NSA eavesdrop on foreign communications, not chatter inside the US itself. It is likely that Google will have to supply a backdoor to US agencies for eavesdropping.” With this feature currently limited to the US that may not be a major worry. However, Skype may also share this risk, particularly on US servers.

Thirdly, Google may not intentionally log call data, but we all know what they say about the road to Hell and good intentions. Google’s Street View snooping fiasco is an example of just how intrusive the search giant can be and yet bandy about the word “accidental”. It has basically also gotten off scot-free all over the shop. Which gives it the message that it can do pretty much anything it likes. What is to stop it from “accidentally” logging all your phone calls as well?

Finally, Google’s empire is growing extremely quickly. While it has contributed some great software and technology amidst this expansion, there is a risk of it swelling in so many sectors that it eventually has too much power, creating an entity that Winston Smith would have feared. Or is it already there? Google knows a lot about us from its search engine and email services alone. Do we really need to supply it with our phone calls as well?

TechEye spoke to Dylan Sharpe, Campaign Director at privacy group Big Brother Watch, about just how dangerous Google might become.

“Whether or not there is any overt privacy threat from using Gmail calls is not yet clear, however this does represent the latest move by Google towards a monopoly of our online communications.”

“As the CEO, Eric Schmidt, admitted recently, people have to be more careful about what they put on the internet and how they use online services. At Big Brother Watch we would be wary of giving too much information to any one company – especially Google.”

He was referring to a recent warning Schmidt gave about a future without privacy, where he said that “people aren’t ready for the technology revolution that’s going to happen to them,” a future where Google knows just about everything there is to know about you. The more we think about it, the more we think it’s already arrived.

Operators want WiMAX fully mobile by 2012

Most WiMAX operators plan to offer their services for mobile users by 2012, providing enough smartphones are developed that can actually handle the technology says a report by Infonetics Research.

WiMAX is currently limited by a number of factors and is mainly employed for nomadic broadband services, but most operators want that to change in the near future. Two-thirds of the 25 operators asked want to offer WiMAX for mobile broadband within the next two years.

The survey also found that 90 percent of operators anticipate offering VoIP through WiMAX by the same period, hoping to make the proto-4G technology the next big thing; that is if LTE doesn’t win the day as some soothsayers sooth.

One of the big problems for the provision of WiMAX for mobile broadband is that there are so few handsets that support it. The HTC Evo 4G was the first smartphone with support for WiMAX, launching on the Sprint network in the US on June 4 of this year. Other manufacturers, such as Samsung, have promised WiMAX phones but delivering is taking a long time.

Demand is out there, however, as the HTC Evo 4G became one of the most popular Android phones on the market, trailing in third place behind the Motorola Droid and HTC Droid Incredible.

There are other obstacles for WiMAX, such as the difficulty in providing retail and distribution channels and low-cost services for developing countries, not to mention the race against time to beat arch-nemesis LTE, which some would say it appears to be losing, but all of this pales in comparison with the lack of supporting devices.

WiMAX operators may have mobile services in place for 2012, but it’s still not certain if handset manufacturers are as willing to jump on board to meet them at the deadline.

Voice over IP outfit has laugh with marketers

A Voice over IP outfit decided to turn its unused phone numbers into a trap for tele-marketers 

The move was a silly season idea to see how many messages they got which were sent by cold calling marketing people. Given that the number didn’t exist the number would have had to have been called using a machine.

According to RevK, in Bracknell, in eight hours on Friday it recorded 66 calls to its Bracknell offices, before the honey pot was set up, in eight hours it had 331 call attempts from withheld or unavailable to unused office numbers.

“It shows how much of a problem these junk calls are,” the outfit said.

The cold callers got a non-charged message that they were talking to a machine, but apparently that did not stop them.

In some cases they have had to make the calls manually to see what has gone wrong.

One marketeer was so dumb they ended up talking to the recorded message for three minutes before the message started calling her really dumb.

Calls are only coming in 10am to 6pm, and total for the day for calls over 10 seconds is 67 calls. Most are at least 1 minute and some up to 4 minutes.

It means of course that RevK can build up a list of callers which are from marketing outfits and have them blocked so that they will not bother people ever again.