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Use Skype - Go Directly To A Chinese Prison

Use Skype - Go Directly To A Chinese Prison

A research firm recently revealed that eBay and TOM are colluding with the Chinese government to spy on users of Skype. Together they monitored user's text chats and stored those containing politically sensitive topics like freedom, democracy, Tibet, opposition to the communist party and Falun Gong. They also track voice call participants. Presumably they turned this data over to the government and it's impossible to track how that data has been used.

“What people have been implicated by their Skype usage and subsequently interrogated, imprisoned or executed?”

If history can be a guide it's logical to assume that the data resulted in prison terms or worse. In 2005, Yahoo was involved in a similar disclosed incident in which it turned over emails to authorities which netted a 10 year prison sentence for a reporter who dared to talk about democracy. I wrote about it when it happened and questioned where one draws the line chasing the almight dollar (or Yuan). Two years later Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang was in front of Congress explaining the situation and apologizing to the mother of the imprisoned.

In response to the revelation of spying on calls and instant messages a spokesman for Skype incredibly stated that Skype is "the most secure forum of publicly available communication." eBay points the finger at their Chinese partner TOM claiming they had "no knowledge or consent" of this privacy breach. This level of compromise requires access to source code which eBay would have had to provide them. Maybe eBay didn't have direct knowledge of these alterations. However no one can deny China's well known efforts to police and censor their citizens net activities which surely eBay executives know about. To provide the source code with no auditing or oversight shows at best a convenient excuse. One wonders how long this would have continued without the whistleblower and how many other countries Skype cooperates with to allow the same spying.

More likely at least some within eBay/Skype knew exactly what TOM was doing and consented because it gave them access to the enormous Chinese market. Its estimated that nearly half of Skype users are from China. This is why Cisco and others design special networking equipment enabling the Chinese government to snoop and lock down their country's net activities. Similar to Skype they are lured by the dollars awaiting any country that cracks the Chinese market.

I would call on eBay to be forthcoming with information on this situation by publicly disclosing details of this situation which will require tough questions of their partner and Chinese government. This would demonstrate that eBay's publicly stated "concern" is more than a press tactic. Specific questions eBay should answer include:

  • When did this spying start?
  • What users did it affect?
  • When specifically did it stop? Has it stopped?
  • What specific terms were monitored? (Users have a right to know if their messages have been implicated.)
  • What people have been implicated by their Skype usage and subsequently interrogated, imprisoned or executed?
  • What steps will be taken to defend these people or get their convictions overturned?
  • Has previously stored data been deleted? How can users be sure?
  • What will eBay do to insure that this spying isn't reactivated as soon as the press attention subsides?
  • What other companies and countries are monitoring Skype communications?
  • What auditing steps is eBay implementing to make sure this does not happen again?

Let me be clear about Gizmo5's policy and refute Skype's spokeman's claim that Skype is the "most secure". Gizmo5 doesn't spy on calls and messages and we wouldn't give that info to any government. We encrypt calls between Gizmo5 users and have given no one the decrypt key. We would not allow a partner or government to do wholesale monitoring of communications - no matter how many billions of prospective customers they have. If ordered to take action by a government that defies basic Western freedoms we would do it only under threat of imprisonment and the information would then be disclosed in this blog condemning the action and striving to defend any of those adversely impacted. I challenge eBay/Skype to do the same. Defend their users. Defend their brand. Defend freedom.

-- MR

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