Skype and Facebook: When social media collide

If using Skype and Facebook together is triggering pop-up browser windows that clutter your screen, you're not alone

Back in October when Skype 5.0 client software appeared, it was heralded as a good thing all round. It integrated Skype's audio and video conferencing into Facebook's social media management, allowing Skype users to view and comment on Facebook friends' posts, and to communicate with them via SMS and Skype's voice service.

So far so good, but just over a month ago, a strange quirk emerged at many companies and schools that cast a shadow over the whole thing. As of the aftermath of Presidents' Day, that shadow is still looming.

Towards the end of January, help desks like the one I manage started to receive a lot of foot traffic from Skype users. Something that looked a lot like a Trojan or virus was making Internet Explorer windows open repeatedly, stacking error message on top of error message in a cascade of spawning windows. A quick speed-read of the error message pointed towards Facebook -- a site that's blocked by many corporate Web filters as not related to business.

The hapless clients who brought in their machines insisted that they'd not been trying to get into Facebook, but every one of them did have a Skype client loaded.

The mystery deepened upon visiting Skype's support site. Skype users were complaining about the issue, wondering whether the Skype client was carrying a virus.

"Our Anti Virus has come up clean, as has MalwareBytes, Spybot Search and Destroy, Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool, HiJackThis, and AdAware," said one post, which went on to say that uninstalling the program and installing the latest version did not fix the problem.

The early consensus was that removing Skype 5.0 software completely was the most effective fix. Reverting to Skype 4.0 also worked.

While this did fix the issue, it didn't come to grips with the underlying cause -- and Skype staff did not weigh in on their support forum to provide any guidance. In the end, a conversation among several Skype clients came up with a quick and effective solution: Turn off Facebook integration in the Skype 5.0 client. Sure enough, that fixed it. It turned off the much-vaunted features of the new software, but it was worth the sacrifice.

Yep, the spawning Facebook windows were not caused by a virus; it was likely a case of poor programming. Why else would Skype 5.0 keep looking for Facebook when WebSense and other content filtering programs keep saying "Site blocked"? That's the most likely explanation and as of now, Skype doesn't seem to have offered any other reason.

All this came to light almost exactly a month ago, but in the post-Presidents' Day holiday rush, our help desk is still getting cases of Skype 5.0 related spawning pop-up windows.

In a finger-pointing frenzy, it's possible to blame Skype, WebSense, and other content filtering software, or the administrators who choose to block social networking sites from their company networks. But in the long run, the path of least resistance is the same: Just say no to Facebook integration until the bug is fixed.

Here's how to do it for yourself:

1. Brace yourself for multiple browser windows.2. Launch Skype.3. Use Alt-Tab on your keyboard to get through the spawning windows to Skype.4. Click on the Facebook tab in the right pane of the Skype window.5. Click on the link labeled "Don't Show Facebook In Skype."

This will halt the insane flow of new browser windows. But to get rid of them, you'll probably want to restart your system.

Matt Lake is an author, award-winning technology journalist and technical services coordinator in the field of education.

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Matt Lake

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