After one fairly-pleasant year of Skype services and the privilege of a restricted (invisible) number, I called a friend who exclaimed “Hey, your number is coming through! Is this the right number?”. I replied with confident and sincere denial and asked him to give me the number masquerading as mine and decided to check into it.
Apparently this number is assigned to many other users too. Whether this number is applied or not, seemingly depends on service-providers and perhaps the time of the call; though I am presently uncertain of the exact criteria for its assignment.
I called several other friends and verified that my actual private number always (and the generic one generally) remains restricted, but occasionally (and unpredictably) is substituted by the following number: 661.380.3000. ATT apparently provides this number to recipients on occasion, but strangely not for every call.
The real trouble is not the number — it is the nature of the message received by those who attempt to call it (661.380.3000) after having it appear on their caller ID. A transcript of the message reads:
“The number you have reached is associated with a call that originated from a voice service provider and is not associated with any specific users. Therefore the subscriber who originated the call cannot be reached at this number. Any permission regarding the nature of this call will only be provided in accordance with a lawful request made by the appropriate law enforcement agency. Please report threatening or malicious activities to local law enforcement for further investigation.“
Investigation? Malicious activities? WTF? If I were a business, single woman, or skeptical person of any gender, this would leave an unsettling impression on me. The message never mentions Skype and has a noticeably menacing tone. Why would Skype choose such words? Surely such a message could be made to sound less incriminating or threatening and could certainly be a bit more informative too. If I call someone and – as many people do – they attempt to call me by the number seen on their caller ID, they will be hearing about “law enforcement” and “malicious” behavior. For some callers this would be enough to establish wariness immediately. Who wants that? Below is my comic interpretation of the silliness of Skype’s generic message. Alice Skypes Bob:
Microsoft’s purchase of Skype, coupled with their patent for “legal intercept“, tripled with the inherentinsecurity(pdf) of Skype’s encryption, leaves me with an absence of admiration for the company. Though I enjoy the service in general, there is a growing number of things I strongly dislike.
I am not entirely alone here either. An interesting little post found by cryptome can be read here. The article complains of Skype’s unsolicited persuasion of users to fuss with Facebook and frivolously make friends (CIA Intelligence Nodes?). I don’t do facebook, and certainly don’t want my phone service doing it.
Perhaps this generic number is merely to cover their asses, but it sure does sound terrible. Maybe they should return to the old 12345 number; at least it’s harder to take seriously or mistake for a real number. But now that they are owned by Microsoft, I can only expect things to get worse – especially privacy and policy.
*According to wikipedia, area-code 661 includes Kern County California, parts of Los Angeles County, Santa Barbara County, and Tulare County.