A Skype alternative worth its salt: Jitsi

I’ve been using Skype, Google Talk and Facebook chat for years to communicate with friends and family. They’re all convenient, reliable and easy to use. But there is a big problem: They are all very easy to record and monitor by 3rd parties. We now know that:

  • Microsoft (owner of Skype) keeps records of who talked to whom and for how long. We also have very good reason to believe that there are tools out there (built by private companies and sold to governments) that can eavesdrop on Skype voice calls. Skype executives have been unable to deny that they comply with local law enforcement requests to eavesdrop on Skype calls.
  • Google definitely record all of your text chats. They don’t deny they do that, even when you use the “Go off the record” option in Google Talk. We’re not sure what recording they do with voice calls but can be certain that they comply with the law – therefore building “legal intercept” capabilities into their products.
  • Facebook record and analyze all of your text chats and will report you to the police if they see anything “suspicious” (source: Reuters). We don’t know what they do with voice/video calls, but again can be certain that they comply with the law – therefore building “legal intercept” capabilities into their products.

So if you happen to live in a surveillance state (think countries of the Arab Spring, think UK with their repeated attempts to introduce surveillance of their citizens, think USA with their record-breaking demands for your personal data from all of the above service providers (Microsoft, Google and Facebook)) then you can expect that all your online communications with your loved ones (voice calls, video calls, text chats) are recorded and stored, or at least eavesdropped upon. They’re all great free services that allow you to keep in touch with people, with one caveat: the government is listening in.

If you have no problem with that, perhaps because you subscribe to the flawed “I have nothing to hide” school of thought, read no further.

If you feel that being spied upon constantly, and having no reasonable expectation of privacy for your online life is not cool, read on.

The work of thousands of visionaries (starting with people like Richard Stallman in the 70’s) has today given us the free tools to protect our online communications to a reasonable degree. These are not tools to stop a police investigation against you from succeeding – these are tools that empower you to opt-out from the surveillance-by-default communications channels most of us use, and instead keep your private thoughts and words only between yourself and your loved ones.

Jitsi main window
The easiest one to get us started is Jitsi.

Jitsi gives you voice calls, video calls, instant text messages and group chats. It therefore covers 100% of the communication capabilities of Microsoft’s Skype, Google Talk, Facebook Chat, IRC channels and the like. Use Jitsi, and you don’t need to use any of these again.

Why switch to Jitsi?

Because it protects your privacy as much as possible. If you and your loved ones use Jitsi, you can:

  • Have end-to-end encryption of your voice and video calls – guaranteeing that nobody is listening in or recording.
  • Have end-to-end encryption of your text (instant messaging) chats with Off The Record (OTR) technology – the world’s finest in preserving your privacy with unique features like Perfect Forward Secrecy and Deniability.

As an additional benefit, it’s great to have all of your instant messaging contacts in one window, and Jitsi gives you that. It also runs on Windows, MacOSX and GNU/Linux.

encrypted video call

Start using Jitsi instead of Skype, Google Talk and Facebook Chat and stop corporations and governments collecting, storing and analyzing the thoughts you share with your loved ones.

PS: You can only have private communications if both ends of the chat/voice/video call support this. If both you and your loved ones use Jitsi, voice & video calls are private by default. For text chats, you will have to click the lock icon in your chat window (as shown below) until it displays a closed “lock” state.

this conversation is NOT private
PPS: No “lock” icon? That probably means that the person you are chatting with is not using Jitsi or a similar program that can protect your chats with OTR. You can only have a private conversation if both ends support OTR.

PPPS: Looking for something like Jitsi for your smartphone? For private text messaging (using the Off The Record protocol) look at ChatSecure for iPhones or GibberBot for Android phones. For private voice calls on the Android, look into csipsimple and Moxie Marlinspike’s RedPhone. Remember, both ends of the conversation need the same technology to create a private channel.

21 thoughts on “A Skype alternative worth its salt: Jitsi

  1. Pingback: Privater Facebook-Chat // Eigene Privatsphäre besser schützen: Jitsi, die Alternative zu Skype, Google Talk und Facebook-Chat

  2. This is one of a millionth chat app, the key point of using Skype instead of any other chat app is because Skype has been installed on most PCs around the globe and have the largest number of registered active users, so that you can reach most of the people with Skype. App developers what you need to develop is extreme strong encryption plugins for skype thats all. 1024bit two layers with 2 different algorythm skype encryption plugin….

    • Hi Steve

      It’s not that simple… the reason why Skype does not protect your privacy is not because its encryption is not “strong” – it is because Microsoft, the owner of Skype, will cooperate with law enforcement agencies around the world and intentionally give them access to Skype conversations. See http://paranoia.dubfire.net/2012/07/the-known-unknows-of-skype-interception.html

      The reason people should be using a ZRTP application (like Jitsi) for their voice/video calls is that with Jitsi they do not need to trust a commercial organisation to protect their privacy. By using Jitsi you are using Free software which uses protocols developed by some of the best respected security researchers around. Further, Jitsi is Free software (which means it can be reviewed to ensure it’s not snooping on you), and supported by privacy activists.

      The above cannot be claimed for Microsoft and Skype, who have had to cooperate with law enforcements agencies around the world to gain access to their countries’ markets.

  3. Yes, I configured as shown in your mentioned link, but I am facing same problem. I also checked on Windows 7 Machine, but the result is same. One thing I have to mention that I used jitsi in my office without any trouble for any account (We use proxy Server for Internet). But at home where I have a direct internet connection, I m facing that problem. :-(. Anyway thnx for thr reply, I will post on jitsi users mailing list too.

  4. Jitsi sounds great but I dont suppose I will ever use it.
    It would be great if I had control over what my friends use but I do not – they use skype.
    Great as many of the feature so Jitsi are, and massively as these features would be lost through skype interoperability, I think for the sake of mass-adoption, this should be the priority.

    If it cannot be done though reverse engineering (and that does in fact seem tricky) then it should be done using skype-Jitsi interchange servers, amd making the use of these invisible when calling or being called by skype numbers. Skype usernames could be created on the fly, something like Jitsi- when passing out the Jitsi userername to skype contacts.

    Then at least my Jitsi inclined friend would start using Jitsi to talk to their skype friends, which they will not do at the moment as all their friends use skype! And you never know, I just might discover that I actually had Jitsi contacts, and they might discover me!!

    • Networks effects are an unfortunate reality we have to deal with. All Skype users have the same problem. It’s not easy to find a solution out of this. First of all, Skype does not allow compatibility with other services – that’s their business model. Second, if Jitsi becomes “less secure” to interoperate with Skype, why would anyone use Jitsi?

  5. Pingback: To Regain Your On-line Privacy Open the Source and Close the Back Door | YABVE

  6. I’m interested to connect to Jitsi. However, I have a rather crucial question. Let’s say everything works perfectly with encryption, and I am out of the scope of the observing eyes of the Big Brother (google, fb etc). But, how I can be sure that my log-in information of my private fb account that I have just used to sign with, won’t be missuses by Jitsi itself?

    • Jitsi is free software (as in “freedom”) so you can always review the source code and be quite certain that nothing fishy is going on.

      If you’re worried about adware, selling your private info to 3rd parties etc, you don’t need to worry about Jitsi. This is the business model of FB et al.

      On a more practical level you can capture the network traffic of your machine while using Jitsi and verify that your FB credentials are not being misused.

  7. I looks as though Jitsi requires the user to have and use some VOIP account (Google Talk, IPPI, etc.) to make a call. If I have to use a VOIP provider like Google Talk or IPPI, how is that any more private or secure than simply logging into a service like Google Talk and using Talk directly?

    • Using Jitsi (or something equivalent like csipsimple or pigdin) on both ends of the conversation is more private because the *content* of your conversation is end-to-end encrypted. This is true for both ZRTP (voice & video calls) and OTR (for text chatting). Even though Google or whoever are carrying your packets, they cannot read the content.

  8. Will Jitsi in the near future be able to use Google Hangouts?
    Can someone please summarise the existing capabilities of Jitsi regarding its current contents? Which of the existing interfaces with other service providers are working fully now and will also be working in the future?

  9. What’s your recommendation for a VoIP service (to use with Jitsi)? How do I call and text regular phones (particularly, international calls at reasonable rates)? Thanks.

    NOTE: Google is ending their XMPP interface to Google Voice, so that is not an option in the long run for whoever was considering it at all.

    • Will answer own question. Some SIP providers with PSTN gateways worth considering are: sip2sip.info, ippi.com, localphone.com, nonoh.net. I happened to try the last one (before finding the superior others), and Jitsi didn’t work with it. In fact, Ekiga, Linphone, Twinkle all failed for various reasons. Just a guess, but the weak point of all the failures likely has to do with NAT traversal, except for Twinkle which succeeded in the calls but had sound issues — silence. Jitsi also didn’t like iptel.org for me.

      Luckily, Blink client worked with it nicely. So far it appears that Blink is a very neat client developed by a company heavily involved in SIP, which shows in the comprehensive settings and in the fact that it works where others fail. Also, Blink is implemented in Qt, which nicely integrates into your desktop environment (in addition to looking nice), while Jitsu is stuck with the atrocious Java-based GUI.

      • Thanks for the info. My motivation in using Jitsi is privacy, so I don’t really use PSTN bridges. I mostly use Jitsi with free https://ostel.co SIP accounts (for interoperability with other SIP clients, but always over ZRTP), or with XMPP accounts like jit.si or jabber.ccc.de for video conferencing (again, over ZRTP).

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