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The basic technology is to get the audio/video from my machine to yours so you can hear me. Nobody's in the middle storing it; we're just not that interesting.

I want to understand what is VOIP and how it works with video? After you a finish a VOIP with video call like Gmail or Skype, where does the video stream go to? Is it saved anywhere online or does it just disappear on the internet? Some people say that what goes on the internet stays on the internet.

In this excerpt from Answercast #67, I look at the difference between streaming audio/video on the internet and posting information to websites.

Stays on the internet

Well, what people say is partially true. If you put something on a server (like, if you post on a website, on Facebook, as a comment on Ask Leo!, whatever), there are enough different things out there automatically copying what's going on that it's very hard to undo.

That's one of the reasons we all strongly suggest that you never post something online that you wouldn't want your parents to read on the front page of your local newspaper. Because one way or another (we've seen politicians fall into this trap again and again), once it's on the internet, you can't get it back.

Streaming media

However, when you talk about streaming audio and streaming video, that's actually something different.

What I've been talking about so far is something where you are placing information (comments, or photos, or videos) on a website where it is actually stored on that website. That basically should always be considered to be something that you can't undo. Once it's up on the internet like that, it's there forever, for all practical purposes.

Streaming on the other hand doesn't do that. What a streaming audio call does or a streaming video call does (using technologies like Skype and like Google Talk) is that they actually send bits from your computer to your recipient's computer. They stream bits back from the recipient's computer to yours.

Now, there may be servers involved in-between in getting that data from your machine to their machine, but they are not storing it. I'll talk about conspiracies in a minute, but they're not storing it. All they're really doing is facilitating the transfer of the audio and video information from your computer to his and the reverse from his to yours.

A way to think about it is that putting something up on the internet is kind of like putting water in a bucket that someone can drink from later. Anybody that comes along can drink from that bucket and there's always going to be your water in it.

On the other hand, streaming is sort of like you're handing a glass of water to the person across from you; there's no third party; there's no place where it's being stored. You're just giving them the water, and maybe they're giving you water back - or tequila or who knows.

Point being though that it's a transfer between you and this other person where there's no intermediary doing anything to what is you're transferring.

Conspiracy theories

Now, when I start to talk about conspiracy, the issue is that there are people who believe that even streaming audio and streaming video are being captured or can be recorded by third parties. Most notably, many people (or some people, I should say) are concerned that their government might be monitoring and recording what it is they're transmitting between the two.

That's why good programs like Skype (I'm not sure about Google) will encrypt the data so that, even though it might get recorded, what's being recorded is nothing more than encrypted noise.

The other practical reality is: you're also trusting the person at the other end. The person at the other end could, of course, be recording the audio and the video of your video phone call.

So those are the kinds of things that worry people.

For me, I'm not worried. The basic technology is to get the audio from my machine to yours so you can hear me; get your audio from your machine to mine so I can hear you; do the same with video.

Nobody's in the middle storing it; we're just not that interesting.

So it's not something that concerns me. Streaming - true, real-time streaming - is not something that I expect to be stored on the internet forever. Unlike uploading a file.

End of Answercast #67 Back to - Audio Segment

Article C5998 - November 5, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?


Howard B. Evans, Jr.
November 6, 2012 11:43 AM

Conspiracy theory or not, it is the job of the NSA to know about everything that occurs via electronic communication that could be a threat to the national security. This involves intercepting signals and, if necessary, codebreaking to decipher the signal content. To that end, there are several places on the Internet backbone where the NSA can intercept and record everything. Some of these places are public knowledge, some are not. How much is recorded and how long it is kept is a state secret. There is a huge data processing facility in Utah about ready to occupy and open for business. It has the capacity to record everything that transpires on the Internet and keep it forever. The problem is how to separate the real gems from a huge stream of glass fakes and give the gems further attention. Encrypted video? Puhleeeze! The NSA does that during idle cycles of their supercomputers.

November 6, 2012 9:48 PM

"You're just not that important." I love that phrase and I've repeated it a few times lately to a few people (I hope Leo doesn't mind).

I've heard the conspiracy theories, including the one that says the CIA/FBI has the software makers give them the codes to decipher the encryption. I've also heard that they also listen in to all regular phone calls.

Whether these are true or not, I could care less because I'm just not that important. If they really are listening in and will be recording and monitoring my Skype calls, what they are looking for is terrorist plots, security risks, etc. I don't engage in that business, so it doesn't bother me.

And I don't engage in illegal activity or embarrassing activities, so even if they are doing this and you get a rogue employee try to exploit something, there is nothing to exploit. I'm just not that important.

Peter Wall
November 22, 2012 1:08 AM

Shame Leo! We are interesting! That's the raison d'etre of "big data"!

We have a tendency to see certain things as disconnected when in fact they may be easily related.

In the realm of web security, there is the "dog chasing its tail" problem. Better encryption is developed, but faster and more efficient technology can crack it quicker. It's a never ending cycle.

So, why not keep a copy of the transmission as it occurs, encrypted or otherwise. The fact that it is encrypted just makes the problem of decoding it a little more interesting. Don't get me wrong - I am not a snooper, hacker, or any other such criminal, but neither am I a fool. The way I present this is simply to reinforce the manner in which real snoopers and hackers see it!

Like the two previous comments, I have nothing to hide. I have to ask though, why is it when the telephone became prevalent, legislators saw it fit to prevent "snooping", which is what those agencies mentioned do, but when the internet was born, the whole idea was turned on its rear? In Canada at least, police must seek a court order to wiretapp a phone! Sure the internet enhances criminal capability, but it also enhances policing and investigative ability. It is in fact benign to the nature of evil, but so many who should know better just don't realize what they are losing by seeing web technolgy as something more! After all, "freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose", as per Kris Kristofferson!

Now, to myself and those who commented earlier, I like Leo's technical and practical perspective. I don't care for politics in a forum such as this, so please, let's stick to the technicalities of Microsoft and related software.


Peter Wall

December 16, 2012 10:49 PM

Hi leo,
I want to know about 3g video calling, Can a third party or someone from a telecom company record video calls made through 3g service. remember i m not talking about skype.

I have no idea, but it would be safest to assume: yes. Besides, whatever the answer is today it could easily and silently change tomorrow.

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