The cost of doing business in China: Privacy

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.

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:

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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.

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