An Internet censorship specialist revealed on Wednesday that TOM-Skype, the Chinese partnership of eBay's Skype, is monitoring and storing text chats. Skype is a widely used messaging and voice chat service that identifies itself as being secure for communication due to its encryption technology. China's government set keywords to flag messages on the service, where they would be analyzed for IP addresses and usernames. This information was stored insecurely, leading to its discovery by Canadian researcher Nart Villeneuve at the University of Toronto. "Skype encryption ensures that no other party can eavesdrop on your call or read your instant messages." says their security page , but has a policy of responding to "lawful requests from relevant authorities." The FBI wants telephone tapping laws on communication services like Skype, but these do not apply to instant text messages that skip the phone system entirely. The Chinese version of Skype allows surveillance of messages with flagged keywords, some of which include "democracy" and "Tibet."
At a time where the Internet needs an international code of conduct in terms of free speech, Internet neutrality and civil rights, this discovery is a step backwards. In the past, China has used Internet-derived information as evidence to convict a journalist, shut down a local Microsoft blog, and has its own filtered Google.cn. These matters have been fodder for criticism by free speech and civil rights groups. Many companies want to take advantage of the enormous audience of China's Internet sector, and are too obliging to the government's censoring practices. If they are not subject to China's laws and are so helpful in their practices, it further underlines the need for regulations protecting the rights of individual users.
China, with its financial draw and its less than socially responsible ethics model, will continue to make its own rules as long as businesses keep supporting it regardless. Unfortunately, the 338 million international users of Skype deserve a better model than the usual double-speak.