Skype calls to feature ads big enough to interrupt any conversation

Skype logoSkype has provided a great service for years, keeping us connected with friends and family. But there's always been one thing missing—marketers interrupting calls with giant display ads.

Skype is finally fixing that problem, with today's launch of so-called "Conversation Ads" that will appear within the calling window during audio calls. Why are they called Conversation Ads? Because Skype is actually hoping users will discuss the content of the ads during phone calls. In other words, Skype (now owned by Microsoft) is hoping to interrupt the normal flow of human conversation, with advertisements targeted at users based on their location, gender, and age.

"While on a 1:1 audio call, users will see content that could spark additional topics of conversation that are relevant to Skype users and highlight unique and local brand experiences," Skype's Sandhya Venkatachalam wrote on the company blog. "So, you should think of Conversation Ads as a way for Skype to generate fun interactivity between your circle of friends and family and the brands you care about. Ultimately, we believe this will help make Skype a more engaging and useful place to have your conversations each and every day."

That's not from an Onion article. That's Skype's official announcement.

Just in case you thought the ads might be small enough to prevent such interruptions, a picture on the announcement (posted above this article) shows that display ads will be just as big as the picture of the person you're talking to. The ads can be purchased by companies in 55 markets, providing an "opportunity for marketers to reach our hundreds of millions of connected users in a place where they can have meaningful conversations about brands in a highly engaging environment."

The ads will appear during Skype-to-Skype audio calls for users of the Skype for Windows client. It will only be targeted at non-paying users, those without Skype Credit or subscriptions, the company said. Skype promised there would be no degradation of call quality. "Skype call quality will remain the same. Ads will be silent, non-expanding and run after we've completed our regular detailed quality checks on your connection," the company said.

Since Microsoft completed its purchase of Skype last year, we've been waiting to see how Skype products might be improved or integrated into Microsoft software to create more value for users and the company. Advertising is the business model of the Web, so seeing Skype place ads on free services is no surprise. But when you're providing phone services, attempting to direct the flow of conversation with the content of advertisements strikes us as going too far.

Skype ads

At the very least, users can opt out of personalized advertisements, but it's a multi-step process. This is how Skype describes it:

We may use non-personally identifiable demographic information (e.g. location, gender, and age) to target ads. This will help ensure that non-paying users see ads that are of greater interest and relevance to them. Users can opt-out of allowing Skype to use some of this non-personally identifiable information from the Privacy menu in Tools -> Options of Skype for Windows. If the user opts-out, they will still receive advertisements relevant to their location, but Skype will not use other demographic information for this purpose.


To opt-out of the use of non-personally identifiable information by our Ad Serving Partners for the purpose of serving advertisements of greater interest to you please visit Microsoft Advertising at Or you can visit the websites of the Network Advertising Initiative or the Digital Advertising Alliance, each of which provides a simple way to opt-out of ad targeting from participating companies.

Ars spoke with Phil Wolff, editor of Skype Journal (via Skype), and he was not pleased. Sure, the ads are "the least intrusive" they could be, given that they're "barging into a live Skype-to-Skype call." But Wolff thinks it breaches Skype's promise that Skype-to-Skype calls would remain free, in a sense. "Users are now paying an attention tax," he said.

"This is part of a larger blending of Skype properties into the Microsoft advertising network," Wolff said. "Microsoft is selling display ads on Skype's websites, the Skype 'home' pane in the desktop client, and now in voice calls. How would you feel if Apple or Google did this to your mobile calling experience? It's invasive and gets in the way of good calling experience."

Actual phones have never looked so good.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Skype

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