The cost of doing business in China: Privacy

The cost of doing business in China: Privacy

Summary: There's a good amount of scuttlebutt today on a report that highlights how the Chinese government is monitoring Skype traffic for keywords that may offend the Communist party.The report in question (Techmeme), Breaching Trust: An analysis of surveillance and security practices on China's Tom-Skype platform, details the activities of the Chinese government's monitoring of Tom-Skype users.

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There's a good amount of scuttlebutt today on a report that highlights how the Chinese government is monitoring Skype traffic for keywords that may offend the Communist party.

The report in question (Techmeme), Breaching Trust: An analysis of surveillance and security practices on China's Tom-Skype platform, details the activities of the Chinese government's monitoring of Tom-Skype users. Tom Online and Skype have teamed up to offer a Chinese version of the messaging software in China.

The gist:

The full text chat messages of TOM-Skype users, along with Skype users who have communicated with TOM-Skype users, are regularly scanned for sensitive keywords, and if present, the resulting data are uploaded and stored on servers in China.

Here's a look at the keywords China monitors:

china1.png Meanwhile, personal information is stored on insecure systems and surveillance is based on keywords, but not entirely (user names may also be in play).

Koman: Chinese monitoring Tom-Skype messages

And eBay spokeswoman told the New York Times to talk to Tom Online about the security issues. There was no comment on the monitoring.

Yawn. Does this report surprise anyone? Here's a headline that would be real news: China respects online privacy.

Sure, the monitoring stinks. But let's get real here. China was monitoring taxi cab rides during the Olympics. So what's the big deal if China checks Skype messages? Or your Web viewing habits? Or your personal data? Or anything else for that matter? China monitors your stuff. China doesn't know the concept of privacy and it isn't likely to care unless its people stand up and revolt--and they aren't. If the biggest spotlight on the planet--the Olympics--isn't going to put China on the good Internet behavior bandwagon it's highly unlikely that a report by a group called Citizen Lab will.

And if you're a U.S. vendor operating in China you try and straddle this line between our values and China's. It doesn't always work, but companies try to walk it anyway. Shareholders propose numerous human rights policies at their annual meetings with companies. Good luck with that folks.

In the end, it's hardly shocking that China is reading Skype messages. It reads all of messages in the country. Privacy is the cost of doing business there. In an ideal world, that cost would be too high. But apparently the rewards eclipse the costs for now.

Topics: China, Collaboration, Government, Government US, Legal, Security, Social Enterprise

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16 comments
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  • So does the US !

    The only difference is, in china's case, you know and in US, you don't (or atleast most people don't).

    They even hijack all the data that flows through pipes of ISPs and make a copy and put analyzers on them (all in the name of "National Security" and under the cover of various laws passed which are unconstitutional). Is that fine?


    Sir, there is a saying, "People who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others".

    I am not chinese, nor an american, I am a human.
    imronak
  • RE: The cost of doing business in China: Privacy

    Is there anyone who appreciates freedom anyomore? or do we have to be reminded bad it can get?
    dstruve
  • VPN Accounts Prevent Snooping

    Get a VPN Account @ http://www.strongvpn.com and eliminate this concern!
    oakweb
  • What's the big deal? Other than fundamental human rights?

    "So what???s the big deal if China checks Skype messages?"

    The big deal is in the keywords: They're looking to suppress people's opinions about the government.

    The big deal is free speech, which I consider a fundamental human right.

    Not a "right that should only exist in western countries." A fundamental human right that everybody on Earth should have.

    "and it isn???t likely to care unless its people stand up and revolt???and they aren???t."

    Actually, they do care. They are not a nation that allows multiple political parties like we do. There are no Republicans, Democrats, or independents. They are a one party nation (the communist party), and disagreeing with their politics is completely illegal there. Make no mistake, they [b]do[/b] police actions far less than revolts. If you think it takes a revolt to put people in jail, you are sorely mistaken.

    No, it is not shocking. But "not shocking" is not equivalent to "everything is okay and hunky dory and we should look the other way and ignore the issues."
    CobraA1
    • Chinese Privacy

      Having lived in China, it is important to state that the entire concept of privacy is different from what it is here. It didn't start in 1949 with the Communist Party. Chinese have never had any privacy or the expectation of it.
      datrappert
      • Doesn't matter.

        Doesn't matter. I don't change my mind on principles just because of history.
        CobraA1
  • Skype and privacy

    It's important to remember that all communications made
    with standard versions of Skype remain completely secure
    and private - the issues highlighted here affect only the
    TOM-Skype software distributed in China.

    Josh Silverman, Skype's president, has posted a <a
    href="http://share.skype.com/sites/en/2008/10/skype_pr
    esident_addresses_chin.html">statement on the Skype
    blog</a> explaining where we stand currently, and what
    we're doing to sort things out.
    Peter Parkes (Skype)
    • My suggestion

      My suggestion - don't change your product just to play nice with China. Don't create software that encourages restrictions on free speech. I'd much rather you insist that Skype not be modified and boycott them if necessary.

      I highly question the ethics of any business that places higher importance on getting a product into a nation and lesser importance on preserving the fundamental rights of the people using it.

      You should never, [b]ever[/b] compromise your policy of end to end encryption and security on your client software. Not for China, not for the USA, not for anybody. This is something you should take a stand on. This is something where you need to have some backbone. This is something you should stand up for.
      CobraA1
      • Nice idea but...

        as much as I agree with your stand I have a hard time believing that many people would buy stock in a company as it goes down the tubes by ignoring markets and standing by its pricinples. It is understandable that a company caves to government pressure when their customers know what they're getting. As a highly principled customer, do you avoid WalMart because of its policies towards employees? As a highly principled customer, do you avoid products made in countries with slavery or no environmental controls such as China, India, or Pakistan?
        rdtraversi
        • I see.

          "as much as I agree with your stand I have a hard time believing that many people would buy stock in a company as it goes down the tubes by ignoring markets and standing by its pricinples."

          So stock market prices are so valuable that nobody should dare do anything on principle. We should go back to selling humans as slaves, I suppose.

          "As a highly principled customer, do you avoid WalMart because of its policies towards employees?"

          If I disagreed with its policies and was able to get enough people together for an effective boycott, yes.

          "As a highly principled customer, do you avoid products made in countries with slavery or no environmental controls such as China, India, or Pakistan?"

          Whenever possible, yes.
          CobraA1
  • The US is worse

    Deep packet inspection.

    Millions of warrentless wire tappings

    Demanding and getting data from Internet companies like Google.

    Connecting the dots between people, IP addresses and accounts.

    Denying this publicly.

    They admitting it.

    Then getting congress to pass a "it's OK to break the laws" laws.

    Before we tell the world how to live its lives, we need to get our house in order first. Europeans and Asians already know this. But the US new organizations don't really mention this.

    The US has a very bad credibility gap.

    Bringing down dictators, starting wars for no reason other than making money, greed from congress, the President, Wall Street, large businesses.
    The Rationalist
  • Google reads all my messages...

    What's new. I have a gmail account and Google HAS to read
    all my message contents to be able to post the appropriate
    (although discreet) ads on the rigt side of my screen.
    Whithout approving of it, I would expect the CIA, the NSA
    and all security agencies have access to any message and
    files they wish.
    We are actually paying subscription to Big Brother for him to
    spy on our privacy. The only way around is going back to real
    world communication, preferably in a deafening noise!
    Jean-Louis Herman
  • What do you think your gov. and MSN is doing?

    same with skype, google, yahoo... what about that privacy?
    emenau
  • yawn--again and again

    Here?s a headline that would be real news: the US respects online privacy.

    Do this: write to your congress rep. and say the following: I'm an English teacher in Rolla Missouri. I consider myself a word terrorist of students who write terrible English. I drop bombs on them all day and explode their myths about being able to use English as a weapon in the war against terror in writing.

    See how long it will be before all your taxes are audited every year and someone visits the principal of your school to ask very private questions about your lifestyle.

    "Freedom of speech" and "privacy"--give me a break!

    Go and live in China for a bit and see if this all REALLY matters. Stop writing these stupid articles.
    jiagebusen
  • Pure vpn

    I like this post .
    http://purevpn.com
    wellvpn
  • RE: The cost of doing business in China: Privacy

    the truth is that VPNs are good. :) I'm using ibvpn http://www.ibvpn.com
    Anelly