Skype in China reportedly tweaked to remove censorship

Skype in China reportedly tweaked to remove censorship

Summary: Microsoft appears to have tweaked its Skype application in China to make it tougher to monitor communications delivered over the Internet phone service, according to analysis from GreatFire.org.

SHARE:

Microsoft appears to have tweaked its Skype application in China to make it tougher to monitor communications delivered over the Internet phone service. 

A post on the GreatFire.org site said its data analysis revealed Microsoft had removed "all censorship restrictions" previously enabled on Skype in China. This followed the company's announcement Monday that it had ended a joint venture with Hong Kong's TOM Group after eight years and secured a new partner in China, Guangming Founder (GMF). GMF is a joint venture between Beijing newspaper Guangming Daily and the Founder Group, a Beijing-based IT group operated by Peking University. 

Elaborating on its analysis of Skype, GreatFire.org noted: "All user calls, chats, and login information are encrypted and communicated directly to Microsoft via HTTPS. This is a complete about-face for Microsoft from the TOM-Skype era, when all information was processed by TOM and stored by TOM on servers located in China, with absolutely no privacy controls in place."

It added that Microsoft's spokesperson in China declined to comment when contacted. GreatFire.org collects and analyzes data about China's Great Firewall, the government's nationwide Web censorship infrastructure, and publishes information about blocked websites as well as searches. 

According to the site, privacy lobby groups had criticized Skype's partnership with TOM for facilitating censorship and surveillance in China. Data previously revealed that communications between Skype users would be monitored when blacklisted keywords were mentioned. 

skypechina
Current Skype version in China no longer appears to monitor communications based on blacklisted keywords (Source: GreatFire.org).

The new GMF-Skype website provides a Chinese version download with local language support, and is hosted on a server located in China, said GreatFire.org, but noted that Microsoft appeared to have full control of the service. "The software is digitally signed by Microsoft, which means Microsoft and Microsoft alone is responsible for the software's code. The Chinese authorities cannot provide counterfeit software to users in China," it said.

It added that data traffic between the Chinese Skype clients now appeared to be delivered outside of China and located in Singapore, the U.S., and Ireland. "Tom Skype was notorious for monitoring chat history and uploading user information, but it seems that with the current GMF-Skype version, there are no censored keywords. 

"We hope this is a harbinger of change to come not just from Microsoft, but from all major Internet players. It appears Microsoft is indeed fighting back against censorship in China," GreatFire.org said. 

Topics: Censorship, Microsoft, Networking, China

About

Eileen Yu began covering the IT industry when Asynchronous Transfer Mode was still hip and e-commerce was the new buzzword. Currently based in Singapore, she has over 16 years of industry experience with various publications including ZDNet, IDG, and Singapore Press Holdings.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

5 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • No need to handle the code.

    They just listen in after Microsoft decrypts it for them.
    jessepollard
  • Don't worry NSA

    You still have access via supernodes.
    Alan Smithie
    • These supernodes are in China.

      Not the US.

      That is why the "tougher to monitor communications" is only lip service.
      jessepollard
  • No wonder this step comes at this time.

    The US are provoking a conflict with China, by repeatedly flying through their air space.
    Now, unlinking Skype from Chinas security network leaves the NSA in full control of the content, but leaves Chinas agency out of any control.
    What comes next?
    Just my 2 Cent.
    hacho
    • Heh! Heh!

      Seems fair to me after the way they've been attacking my perimeter since 2005!! Back then they were so arrogant they didn't even try to hide it. That breeds strong animosity from IT security professionals in the US, and now - finally - their bosses are listening to them! Oddly enough - with the NSA revelations; the PRC has common ground amongst some of us, and may even sense the time is ripe to get even with US authority. Perhaps Microsoft was looked upon as a lesser evil, compared to Google? Interesting times folks! - Interesting times! :D
      JCitizen