The Skype Skam
Your boss left you a message. Want to hear it? Pay up!
Auros' e-mail exchange took place a couple of weeks ago. When I spoke with O'Shaughnessy today he said that neither he, nor a Skype customer-service expert he contacted in London, nor a Skype product manager he contacted in London, had ever heard of this problem before, which makes the Skype e-mail's pledge that "we will definitely look in to [sic] this" ring a bit hollow. O'Shaughnessy further told me that the London office had, in response to my query, attempted and failed to re-create Auros' experience and mine; when they directed somebody with Skype voice mail to try to leave a message for someone who didn't have Skype voice mail, they found it couldn't be done. I invited them to try to leave a voice mail for me, but I never received one. By then it was getting on toward 10 p.m. in London; maybe everybody went to bed. Or maybe the problem only occurs with voice-mailers you've already communicated with at least once via Skype. "We need more time to understand this issue," O'Shaughnessy finally told me via e-mail. "Please understand that we take matters like this seriously … . We are investigating and will follow up soon with you."
In March 2010, the Web site Classmates.com agreed to pay up to $9.5 million to settle a class action lawsuit alleging that the site (since renamed "Memory Lane") had conned people into subscribing by telling them that former schoolmates were trying to reach them. What Classmates.com did was much worse than what Skype is doing, because after you purchased your Classmates.com subscription you found out that, in fact, no former schoolmate was trying to reach you—not through Classmates.com, anyway. A judge recently rejected the Clasmates.com settlement, sending both sides back to the bargaining table, because "it does not require Classmates.com to stop sending deceptive e-mails." Skype is not engaging in deception, but its voice mail hostage-taking—whether a bug or a feature—sufficiently resembles the Classmates.com marketing scheme that Keyser Söze or whatever reclusive figure runs Skype out of Luxembourg or Menlo Park should feel embarrassed. And if this really is the first that the Skype brass are hearing about it, then maybe it's time to install a few more telephones.
Correction, March 18, 2011: An earlier version of this update said that Skype's customer-relations representative acknowledged the problem to Auros. The earlier version also reported that Skype spokesperson Kim Milosevich said that the Skype representative had misinterpreted the question. Milosevich did say that initially, but later she was able to establish that the Skype representative, though appearing to acknowledge the problem, was acknowledging what I now understand to be a different and relatively trivial problem—the receiver's inability to block incoming voice mail messages. That inability looms fairly small if the receiver is able to listen to those messages. (Return to the corrected sentence.)
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.