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Does Your Employer Ban Skype? 154

Posted by Cliff
from the loss-of-a-communication-tool dept.
neutralino asks: "This morning, we received an company-wide email stating that the Max Planck Society (a German government funded research organization) has outlawed the use of P2P software at all of its institutes (including ours). The statement specifically singled out the use of Skype for internet telephony. The reasons given for this were that 'the exchanged data cannot be controlled' (therefore it might be illegal) and that 'Max-Planck or research resources in general might be abused, if "only" for commercial purposes.' This caught us by surprise, since many of us use VoIP to communicate with friends and family and collaborators, in our respective home countries. Is it now standard practice for companies, government organizations, and universities to outlaw Skype? Should it be?"
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Does Your Employer Ban Skype?

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nhojovadle.> on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @05:32PM (#14620098) Journal
    I'm not going to tell you what company I work for but it is easily in the top 50 of the Fortune 500 [usatoday.com]. And, yes, Skype is banned--my employer would never let anyone use Skype.

    On top of that, I don't have administrative rights to install anything on my computer. I have to go through a large control process to achieve that which requires me to explain what the software will be used for (and it better be a company resource). Therefore, it's almost out of the question to ask for it to be installed.

    My company (and I have the feeling that many others are like this, too) would far rather throw truck loads of money at AT&T rather than risk something going wrong with the P2P aspects of Skype.

    Furthermore, any kind of free software scares my employer. Big time. I know Skype isn't necessarily free so this is about other software I may want to use. They have this fear that they would be a large target if whoever wrote said software decided to take legal action upon discovering that employees of company X all used it to complete their daily jobs.

    Not even stadiums full of lawyers claiming that, due to some software licenses, there's nothing to worry about could convince them otherwise.
    • by Kesch (943326) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @05:44PM (#14620251)
      Not even stadiums full of lawyers...

      Did the temperature just drop in here, or is it just me?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      We have offices in 3 states and 2 countries; and long-distance charges were actually a significant expense.


      Last year, we started recommending that employees use Skype for most routine meetings (most sensitive meetings are still recommended to use phone lines since people questioned Skype's author's previous company's business model).


      Why skype? It was the best cross-platform (Mac & Windows & Linux) voice conference system we could find.

      • 17 countries 22 offices... communication solution within company and partners(more than 500 worldwide): Skype.

        End result: Huge savings.

        We could ofcourse have used some other VOIP solution for the actual communication inside the company, but with the large partnernetwork needed a solution that people will be happy to adopt.. as they can use it for other communications too not only with us.

      • If you were to look again for a good, free cross-platform VoIP setup, you wouldn't go wrong to look at SIPPhone's Gizmo Project [gizmoproject.com] system. They provide clients for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and unlike Skype, they use open standards, most importantly SIP. This means you can use the plethora of SIP-enabled hardware, as well as communicating with outside systems, such as Google Talk. SIPPhone also provides POTS gateways with *very* reasonable rates.

        I'm not affiliated with SIPPhone, but I'm a very satisfied cust
        • As someone who uses Asterisk for VoIP (I have a nice Polycom 601 SIP speakerphone on my desk) the problem with SIP is that it totally blows when it comes to NAT traversal. IAX works MUCH better, and Skype even better than IAX. Furthermore, skype is encrypted. On the downside, skype interoperability is pretty much nonexistant, although there are projects to encorporate the skype protocol into Asterisk. SIP can be helped (in regards to NAT) with the use of SIP proxies, but it's not a clean solution - requirin
    • I work for a major US cell phone carrier, and we have the exact same problems. Pretty much all non-HTTP, FTP, or SSH traffic outside of the LAN is blocked. We don't have administrator rights to our laptops, and there is a huge bureaucratic lag on getting things installed that requires a lot of justification. Getting log-ins on machines we need access to do our jobs can take two weeks to get approval. Personally, I'm of the opinion after butting heads a few times that the job of our IT department is to p
    • wow i bet we work at the same place

      where i work also has the same irational fear of free or open source software

      (also you cant install anything unless its from an approved list, and getting anything on that list, even if its free and totally mission critical is nearly impossible)

      • "also you cant install anything unless its from an approved list, and getting anything on that list, even if its free and totally mission critical is nearly impossible.."

        Hmm...so, you must be working on an NMCI network, right?

        :-)

    • would far rather throw truck loads of money at AT&T

      This is exactly the reason we're banning Skype because it takes up Way too much bandwidth. The largest company is using it and they say it saves them a lot of money on phone bills, but thanks to them we spend all those savings on data communication lines.
      Skype can save money, but only if it's more than what you need to pay for increased bandwidth.
  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @05:34PM (#14620114) Homepage Journal
    From their point of view it is simple.
    You want to talk to friends or family do it on your time.
    If it is work related use their phone system.
    • I just heard on the "Clark Howard Show" today that 90% of employers monitor internet access and 50% monitor phone calls. Yes, they listen in.

      Your right to privacy just about disappears when you walk into your employer's offices.

      • it doesn't disappear.

        Just sort of like your sleezy cousin Vinny, it waits outside for you to get off work ;-)


      • I'm a huge fan of privacy, but where on earth do people get the idea they have free reign to privately use company resources? Some companies are cool about this sort of thing but there is certainly no "right" to make private, personal use of company network and phone systems.

        Finkployd
        • We have a very clear policy: People are allowed to use company time and resources for private purposes if there is a real need. The same way that we expect people to step up and do something even if it requires unpaid overtime when there is real need.

          So someone spending all day chatting with friends about things is in clear violation of this policy, but someone checking in on a sick mother or to arrange something that requires then to call some place "during office hours", is ok.

          • That has always been my policy as well. If I am expected to work at home beyond normal hours (and when I was a systems programmer for a critical mainframe, boy was that ever the case) then I expect to be able to do personal things at work. I've always been lucky to work in positions where that is accepted (and often encouraged, some people understand that hitting ebay or slashdot occationally helps keep people from burning out).

            That said though, even though I happened to know they were not monitoring everyo
      • "90% of employers monitor internet access and 50% monitor phone calls."

        Hmm...I know that it has been decided in court that your computer transactions, email and the like can be monitored by the company. However, I do think it is STILL illegal for them to tap your phone conversations or listen into them. I think phone taps come under another established law.

        IANAL, but, that's they way I've always understood it from what I'd read in the past. A private employer cannot tap a phone anymore than a neighbor ca

    • That assumes that the time you spend using their computer system isn't "your own time."

      While that's true for an hourly wage type in an office building, it certainly isn't true for everyone, especially at a government lab.

      At least around here, it isn't too uncommon for people to work many dozens of more hours than they're officially paid for in a week. In situations like that, allowing them to do something personal with the network that has negligable impact on anyone else is a no-brainer. Restricting it w
      • In any big setup you often have to set up rules like this. It may not be VoIP that is the issue but any third party software. You really can not tell what it is going to break.
        A good example happened at my office.
        We are a small software development company. We used to let the support techs install what they wanted on their systems.

        One day a support tech wanted to try his hand a programing. We told him that he could write a little utility that he wanted but NOT to give it to the other techs until it was test
  • My employer doesn't ban Skype. I can get to the homepage just fine.

    Not being allowed to execute any .exe or .zip files is kinda a drag, though...
  • Skype for business. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rmadmin (532701) <.gro.edocemoh. .ta. .kelamr.> on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @05:36PM (#14620145) Homepage
    My employer (which is pretty small, but spread out) currently embraces skype for free voice communications between our many offices and telecommuniting employees. My employer also embraces most OSS software not only for the fact that it is more cost effective in most situations, but our inhouse programers can tweak the crap out of it.
    • The situation with my employer is similar to the parent's. Pretty much everyone from the management to developer uses skype to keep track of things when people are offsite, or to just fire off a quick message to someone in another room.
    • I wish my employer would use something else. Something standard like SIP/RTP over IPSec. Skype is not open source, and uses a proprietary protocol, with a non-inspectable encryption implementation.

      Skype is gratis, not libre.
      • Sure, but skype appears to just work. Setting up something like Asterisk (and maybe a VPN) has direct real costs like installing and maintanance. The adminstrators will also be blamed whever anything goes wrong, where skype is untouchable and provides nog guarantees anyway.
  • It's the Minesweeper of the future!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    My employer bans Skype (yes, also singled out by name in the company-wide memo), and the explanation we got is (and, I'm paraphrasing here) "it takes a lot of bandwidth to support all that streaming, and you've already got a phone."

    Kinda makes sense from that point of view.
    • My employer bans Skype (yes, also singled out by name in the company-wide memo), and the explanation we got is (and, I'm paraphrasing here) "it takes a lot of bandwidth to support all that streaming, and you've already got a phone."

      Kinda makes sense from that point of view.

      I'm not sure what my employers reasons are for not banning Skype, but I figure it saves them money in the long run. Most of my calls are skype-to-skype and it doesn't cost a penny when I spend a couple hours talking to someone in Hon

  • Of course the telephone system is itself a p2p application. When you can't reach your correspondent using the telephone, but can reach them using Skype, your work will be impeded. It's a luddite reaction similar to those which one can hypothesize occurred when the PSTN was still a novelty, and
    employers reacted strongly against the possibility that their employees might phone home on company time. Of course that was similarly wrong-headed.
    • by FLEB (312391)
      Yeah, but what if they're not on Skype or near a phone, but they're on IRC? What if they communicate by smoke signals? The no-smoking office is oppressive and hinders workflow!

      Really, though, if enough of your contacts would be using Skype but not telephone or email, chances are that your office would be one of those supporting Skype.
  • Of course (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PFI_Optix (936301) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @05:45PM (#14620260) Journal
    Any sensible admin would do that.

    Skype eats network traffic, and when you multiply a Skype call by several hundred that's a lot of resources being consumed. Not to mention the impact on productivity and the security risk that is presented by unverified software.

    Also, any corporate lawyer will tell you that no company wants to risk legal problems caused by employee misconduct. They certainly don't want to get blindsided because of a Skype call that they have no way of monitoring, tracking, or keeping record of.
    • Re:Of course (Score:4, Interesting)

      by arivanov (12034) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @06:29PM (#14620763) Homepage
      Well...

      As far as eating traffic if you only freeload (no local P2P supernodes) it eats 10-20% less traffic compared to an OpenVPN or IPSEC tunnel with a G729 call with VAD turned on. So if it is only one conversation Skype is more economical. Problem is elsewhere. If there are multiple conversations between people from the same company they traverse the company NAT to the sometimes different supernodes as relays and back. This is what wastes bandwidth.

      On top of that Skype especially in a NAT environment is horrible to QoS. If you are obliged to provide a working VOIP environment this is the worst possible protocol. There is no protocol spec, there is no documentation, there is no way to keep state, there is no way to kill specific conversations to keep within bandwidth limits, so on so fourth.

      To add to that, in a company environment it is important to have the VOIP integrate cleanly with the company directory, possibly CRM, voicemail, etc. You do not get anything even close with Skype. You get that from any VOIP PBX. Even Asterisk has that on offer. On top of that in many cases you are obliged to keep at least call records for compliance (if not the entire conversations). Nothing like that with Skype.

      It is a good toy for the end-user masses. It should be banned in a company. If a company allows Skype this means that the sysadmin has no clue on all of the following counts - security, compliance, telephony, network/QoS.
    • Of course. Any sensible admin would [ban Skype].

      Of course? What do you mean, "of course"? Let me finish that "of course": "It might be a security risk, but of course we also have an internal customer to service."

      As opposed to your "of course", let me repeat some things that the sysadmins said at the place where I work:

      • "We have an internal Subversion server which we maintain and you probably need an account"
      • "Did you know you can tunnel straight into your workstation from home?"
      • "I'm discussing a Jabb
  • If Skype went evil (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @05:46PM (#14620277) Homepage Journal
    then it would be the perfect spyware.

    The perfect spyware would punch through firewalls. Skype does just that for its legitimate purposes.

    The perfect spyware would encrypt its outgoing communication. Skype does also.

    The perfect spyware would be a program with plausible-sounding reasons to connect to unknown computers without notice. Skype has to do just that to take advantage of its supernode system.

    The perfect spyware would be hard to reverse engineer. Skype refuses to run under SoftICE (apparently to inhibit development of competing clients).

    In our own real world, Skype's been minding its own business. Nobody's lost a machine due to having Skype on it (at least not since the callto: buffer overflow). Nobody's reported suspicious activity in filemon while Skype was running. By normal standards it's trustworthy. But to a business which lives by "you can EXpect what you INspect" Skype is a terrifying unknown.
    • Skype refuses to run under SoftICE

      Just how does an application know when it's running under a good emulator?

      • Just how does an application know when it's running under a good emulator?

        SoftICE isn't really an emulator - it's really an advanced debugger, and carefully written applications can detect that they're being run under a debugger (either by hooking the debug interrupt, scanning Windows memory, instruction timing, or even just making a few deft software calls which end up returning distinct results whether or not it's running on a debugger). A book called "Crackproof your Software" (No Starch Press) details s
    • But to a business which lives by "you can EXpect what you INspect" Skype is a terrifying unknown.

      All non free software is this way. Why pick on Skype?

      The only thing you missed in your "perfect spyware" specification was this: the perfect spyware does nothing useful for the victim. Removing the program that installed the spyware often leaves the spyware.

      The reason given by the company against Skype and P2P, "the exchanged data cannot be controlled" makes no sense. Do they think they can control the po

    • > Skype refuses to run under SoftICE (apparently to inhibit development of competing clients).

      Runs fine under GDB though. It also can't do anything about ktrace.
  • Unless it comes up as an issue under SOX or HIPPA we are not worried about it, we can't be all our time is taken up fxing the uncompliant parts of our systems/network.
    • Loggin of IM's is required for some companies legal dept, depending on how you read HIPPA anything where your sending data out of the envirnment where it's not logged for review would qualify as not having accpetable safegaurds on data.
  • by Joiseybill (788712) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @05:54PM (#14620374)
    My employer already has a contract for telephone services. My employer can control and audit use - if they need or want to. If confidential information is divulged / threats promulgated/ illegal activity conducted through the existing telephone system, there are clear employment practices and laws to deal with that. Skype is not easily audited. Skype use -may- define the bandwidth provider (the employer) as the telephone service provider; leaving them open for subpeonas and other unwanted attention. Skype users might configure workstations to act as relays, giving away company resources. Right or wrong, they'd rather use POTS.
  • by matt_wilts (249194) <matt_wilts@hot[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @05:56PM (#14620405)
    My employer bans it, and one of the reasons is that *any* type of VoIP system is banned in some of the countries we do business in (UAE being one of them). If the ISP in the region (effectively a state monopoly) found evidence of VoIP on their links, then they'd cut the links, simple as that. Interestingly, we examined the ToS of the link in UAE & we believe it's actually a criminal offence to use VoIP services on the connection we have.
  • When the boss is on the road, why pay for long distance through the hotel circuit when you can just use the cheap/complimentary Internet to place a Skype call?

    I don't see how Skype is any different from ANY other Internet traffic! If you're communicating to the net, you could potentially be sending secrets out. Better Skype than SSH.
    • Well when boss is on the road you give him a softphone extension on the company PBX with all the PBX features, voicemail, calling plan, secretary (most importantly).

      Requires some competence in the sysadmin I guess. Especially to make it work reliably and all the time. QoS on low bandwidth links is a pain in the arse.

      Alternatively, if you are incompetent you give him Skype which has none of that. And both of you enjoy it until he sees another boss which has a competent sysadmin.

      And that is the day when you s
  • I don't use skype on principle; closed source proprietary protocols can go to hell.

    I'm happy to interact with systems based on unencumbered open protocols and open source implementations.

    This means I like Free World Dialup with the Asterisk gateway, and I like asterisk and its inter-asterisk protocols. Nice.

    But skype can go to hell.

    Sam
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @06:09PM (#14620539)
    Yes, Skype is blocked where I work. Ostensibly, this is primarily because it opens a hole in the firewall, thus making it a security threat.

    It might also have something to do with the fact that we're a phone company.
  • And they even have a fab website outlining it [umn.edu].
  • While they're at it, they should ban email and telephones too if they want to stop information leaks.
  • Yes and no (Score:3, Interesting)

    by onebuttonmouse (733011) <obm@stocksy.co.uk> on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @06:20PM (#14620665) Homepage
    I work in the IT department of a local authority. We don't 'ban' Skype as such, but it is blocked at the firewall just like any other non-essential traffic. Out of several thousand users we have had two or three requests to use Skype, which we've complied with. If we had hundreds of requests we'd have to review the situation, since we obviously have limited bandwidth just like everyone else.
  • by ObjetDart (700355) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @06:25PM (#14620724)
    I work for a small software company that is widely distributed; we have developers in 3 different countries and 5 different time zones. We use Skype almost exclusively for all of our voice communication as well as for casual IM'ing. Every employee is required to install Skype and create and publish a Skype ID. I can't even imagine how much time and money we save this way.
    • I'm always amazed at the willingness of small companies to "out source" such essential communication mechanisms to parties over which they have no control at all. I can imagine it for small companies without a decent IT "guy". But a software company should know better.
      • I'm always amazed at the willingness of small companies to "out source" such essential communication mechanisms to parties over which they have no control at all. I can imagine it for small companies without a decent IT "guy". But a software company should know better.

        I don't understand your comment at all. As if we have control over the regular phone system? What exactly should we know better? That we should be paying huge $ to some long distance phone company when a newer, better technology provides

      • Well, some small companies use MSN for same thing - communications between offices... Poor people. Skype atleast works when servers are down, in MSN you just have to wait...
  • Since we have an internet setup with unlimited bandwidth, there's no cost overhead for using Skype. And not to pimp Skype or anything, but we've saved a couple of grand a month on phone bills :-)
    (We have offices in three countries, so we make a LOT of overseas calls just within the company.)
  • by shogarth (668598) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @06:46PM (#14620982)
    If you read the EULA, you are agreeing to allow Skype access to your bandwidth should your machine become a supernode. Well, employees don't own the business's bandwidth and so are generally not in a position to accept those terms. In our case, they are absolutely not in a position to accept those terms.

    Since our users cannot agree to the EULA, our organization has banned Skype. While I dislike the traffic, the deciding issue for administration was that the license was totally inappropriate.
    • Since our users cannot agree to the EULA, our organization has banned Skype.

      What EULA can your employees agree to? I'd say none and that no non-free software of any kind could be installed by end users. Surely, you would not consider an employee's installation of WMP [bsdvault.net] or other M$ "upgrades" that make M$ root [theregister.co.uk]?

      Do you monitor your network for bandwith wastage by spy and malware?

      • It really isn't that complicated. There are really only two types of computer/network use allowed by policy: use in direct support of our organization's business and incidental personal use. While inexpensive voice connections to other sites could meet a business need, that isn't what Skype does. Once you are a supernode, your bandwidth is being used in support of other people so the "business use" doctrine doesn't apply.

        That leaves "incidental personal use." Here again, there is a lot of bandwidth be

  • by StikyPad (445176)
    I'm not sure. I'll try it and let you know, because I was getting sick of being employed anyway.
  • Mobile/cell (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    So are they going to ban mobile or cellular communications also? They aren't under the control of the company, can be used at work, and therefore can be used to leak information. Same goes for SMS, Blackberry (using BWC, NOT BES which obviously ties in to the companies server), MMS, etc.

    Heck, take a camera phone picture of a document and sent it to someone using MMS. completely untracable by company audit logs.

  • I am a network security manager at my company, and we do ban Skype as well as most other protocols outside of NTP, HTTP(S), and FTP, for two very simple reasons:

    1. Bandwidth. We only have a T1 for our office Internet connection, because that's all we need to run our business. Streaming media crushes it pretty quickly with 100 employees sharing 1.544 MBit.
    2. No valid business purpose. This is a business. People are paid to do a job. They don't need Skype, AIM, RealPlayer, etc etc to do that job. We run WebSe
  • Oposite (Score:3, Informative)

    by ResQuad (243184) * <slashdot@noSPAM.konsoletek.com> on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @07:11PM (#14621254) Homepage
    Over here, in the small software company I work for - we specifically use skype for all intra company communication. We have a number of offsite works and this helps alot.
  • Short answer: yes (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I work for a major Australian university. We haven't exactly banned Skype, but we've certainly come very close. Our policy is basically, "If you need to make a call using Skype, you can start up the software, but you must shut down the program completely as soon as the call is over."

    Because of our bandwidth -- we have a very large pipe to the Australian network, and most of our desktops have gigabit ethernet -- any desktop running Skype is going to become a supernode. Because of our connection, we get charg
  • but it does block the ports that are used by Skype and other popular VoIP services.
  • by Wanderer1 (47145) <wanderer1@pobox.COLAcom minus caffeine> on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @07:32PM (#14621430)
    I also work for a Fortune 500 firm, in the security department. I don't have any particular problem with Skype as a product, but we opted to advise our userbase against it.
    The lack of control is the #1 reason, since we can't ensure confidentiality (not that the probability of eavesdropping is worth discussing, but risk management demands a level of due diligence here,) and bandwidth was another concern, not because of the supernode issue, our network would wreck that, but rather because we have enough crap to deal with and didn't need another "free product" to muck up our works with issues of code validation, accountability, confidentiality and service availability.

    I don't like the way things have gone, but at least in Corporate America, I don't have enough peers to cover all the bases and management above me is expecting risks to be minimized, and even that is a huge challenge with just the stuff we paid for.

    Hey, at least you have IM!
    • Yours is just one of many posts saying Skype is proprietary, closed source, can't validate code, unaccounable, potentially unreliable, etc.

      I can't help thinking about other software such as Microsoft Office which is proprietary, closed source, can't validate code, unreliable (proven with viruses), etc.

      How on earth did MS Office (and most of the other software you use) ever get approved? ... or are there different standards?

      Also interesting all of the small, nimble companies that have adopted Skype and ar

  • Should you be chatting to your friends and family at work?
    If so, it shouldn't be banned.

    Collaborators? For work? Then use the phone.
  • Skype Banned (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    At Oxford University P2P is strictly banned from University servers. Ostensibly the rationale for this is that it prevents outside users from using resources paid for by Oxford. They expressly stipulate that Skype is among the banned applications. I find this bizarre because while I would vastly prefer to use Skype - I can also use google talk or msn. Using msn for voice chats however uses more bandwidth, so instead of distributing the load, they prefer more bandwidth to be used on a matter of principle.
  • by k98sven (324383)
    My employer (a Swedish university) does not ban Skype. (although they don't have any explicit policy permitting it either)

    There is, however, a general policy not to abuse computer resources, although I doubt they'd go after anyone for this. They're quite liberal, and someone running Skype off their desktop wouldn't be considered abuse unless it seriously affected their work.

    I'd say the experiences are on the opposite side, for instance we have several starving post-docs from foreign countries who routinely
  • Means they can't data mine your communications as easily.

    Germany is cracking down on Alqueda .
  • I work for a large US microprocessor manufacturer (yes, the one many /.ers seem to love to hate...). Naturally the following is my own observations and should not be taken to imply any official policy position yadda yadda yadda...

    Not only is Skype not banned, its use is encouraged. There is a requirement to use a company-specific modified client (IIRC we paid Skype to produce a variant for us) - I think it adds VLAN tags to prioritize the traffic.

    It isn't oficially supported by IT, rather there's a "you

  • We use Skype as the official company VoIP and conferencing sw. We are a small company, and we have a persistent Skype chat open with all our globally travelling workers, and we cut global phone costs with Skype. Internal meetings are often done is Skype. The two good things are that it works through many kinds of firewalls, and that it encrypts.
  • by bokmann (323771)
    My employer embraces it. We have offices split in San Diego, Colorado, and Washington D.C., as well as a few telecommuters in various corners of the U.S. We use Skype (along with AIM, VNC, Subversion, etc) to create a really collaborative environment, no matter where you are.
  • Not only is Skype NOT banned, we have people that have called into conference calls (via Skype-in, and directly to computers in the conference room) to participate.

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