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Company Screening And Saving Text Messages

October 3, 2008

It was announced by Skype, eBay Inc’s Web communications unit, on Thursday that TOM Online Inc, the majority proprietors of Skype’s Chinese venture TOM-Skype, had been watching and amassing some of its users’ text messages without Skype’s awareness.

Skype apologized after a report discovered that the Web service screens text messages with political keywords and keeps them with a multitude of user records.

These are located on computers that could quite easily be viewed by anybody, as well as the Chinese government.

Spokeswoman for Skype Jennifer Caukin, minority owner of TOM-Skype, confessed the breach existed in the TOM Online servers but stated that the problem had been fixed.

However, she noted that Skype must have continued discussions with TOM after the company discovered that the business enterprise had altered privacy policies without Skype’s approval or familiarity in order to save particular user messages.

Caukin said it was not shocking that “the Chinese government might be monitoring communication in and out of the country.”

“Nevertheless, we are concerned to hear about security issues brought to our attention and confirm that TOM was able to fix the flaw.” she stated, adding that “changes in storing and uploading chats will be further discussed with TOM.”

Caukin said that Skype had openly confirmed in 2006 that in order to obey Chinese regulations, TOM was using a text filter that blocked the use of certain words on TOM-Skype chat messages without neglecting customer privacy. As of now she said that policy had altered.

“Last night, we learned that this practice was changed without our knowledge or consent and we are extremely concerned.” Caukin said.

TOM Group, Parent Corporation of TOM-Skype’s majority proprietor TOM Online, stated that it obeys Chinese regulations.

“As a Chinese company, we adhere to rules and regulations in China where we operate our businesses. We have no other comment,” they said.

The comments stem from a University of Toronto Citizen Lab report that noted certain texts sent from TOM-Skype users and among Skype users, are examined for hot topic phrases like “Taiwan independence” or “Falun Gong” or for resistance to the Communist Party of China.

When these phrases are discovered, the texts and information, such as the usernames of the subscribers, are kept on publicly reachable Web servers with an encryption key that can easily be used to unlock the information.

Skype Chief Executive Josh Silverman stated in the company’s blog that the information refers merely to communications where a few parties are using TOM software for only text messaging.

“It does not affect communications where all parties are using standard Skype software,” he said.

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