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.
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.