Skype Journal Test

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

TOM-Skype Breach: Questions from 2006

Reblogging this post from 19 April 2006.

The Financial Times' Alison Maitland scored an interview with Niklas Zennström that ran yesterday. In it Zennström confirms the TOM-Skype joint venture censors text messages on behalf of the Chinese government. He claims: "One thing that’s certain is that those things are in no way jeopardising the privacy or the security of any of the users."

I posed the following questions to Skype but they have no comment beyond trying to insulate Skype from responsibility.

"The Skype offering in China is actively managed by our joint venture in the country; TOM Online. Skype works hard to co-operate with local laws and regulations in all markets where we do business."

  1. Is TOM only filtering chats where at least one of the callers' accounts were signed up by TOM Online?
  2. Will TOM filter chats if both parties are Chinese nationals but outside the PRC, say traveling in the US?
  3. Is TOM only filtering conversations where at least one of the parties are using the custom version of the Skype client written for the joint venture?
  4. Will TOM filter conversations using the TOM client being used by non-PRC nationals who are outside of China?
  5. Does TOM's contract with Skype provide for disclosure to Skype and Skype users when their information is provided to a government official?
  6. Are records of what the filter does kept? If so, by whom? Does Skype have or keep copies of those record?
  7. Does the filtering mechanism use a list of keywords? If so, is the list public? May I have a copy? Who has the list? How often does it change?
  8. Are the keywords only in Simplified Chinese or are they in other languages too?
  9. Is China the only country where Skype and Skype's partner have set up filtering?
  10. Do all Skype chats have the potential for a hidden participant, whether human or a robot?
  11. Are filenames for transfer subject to filtering?
  12. Are people's names among the keywords?
  13. Are the content of files transferred via Skype also subject to filtering?
  14. Does Skype encrypt end-to-end the IMs that are subject to filtering?
  15. In a multiparty, multinational chat, can I as an American citizen have my text to a British subject filtered if someone from Shanghai is in that chat too?
  16. Are audio conversations, where at least one party is in China, being listened to, filtered or recorded?
  17. Are all calls filtered, or only if users meet certain criteria, or are conversations selected for filtering randomly?

Skype's founders are not strangers to prickly questions of international law and corporate ethics. Their background with file sharing firm Kazaa left them very aware of the business and technology strategies available and their legal and social consequences. This is also a context where phone companies completely block and Skype conversations.

Did the ethics conversation ever take place at Skype when they agreed to the Chinese joint venture?

Who was involved and was there a real debate?

And did eBay understand this situation before the acquisition?

See also:

  • Jan in Malaysia: "The difference between Asia where Internet is seen as venue for free expression in Asia, unlike China. Thank god I live in Malaysia. Malaysia Boleh ! Wawasan 2020."
  • Metafilter thread. "Oh dear, I had high hopes that Skype would hold out. Still, I guess they are telling us. Can anyone find the list of banned words in the TOM client?"
  • China Herald: "But on a positive note, unlike Yahoo, Skype does not help to send their users to prison"
  • 21talks: "And dear readers, the next time you want to give a call to the holy Dalai Lama, just say you’re trying to reach the smiling guy with glasses and a yellow head cap."
  • IP Democracy: "Yeah, well, last I checked, the U.S. and Germany don’t lock up their journalists and throw away the key."

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