Internet Censorship Explorer Nart Villeneuve has been getting lots of questions about his “Breaching Trust” report and issued a Q&A that answers some common questions. Initially he describes how he determined that messages containing key words were being uploaded to a web server. (The technologically curious can get the answer through accessing the link.) He then goes on to say:
Is “normal” Skype affected?
No. The Skype software downloaded from skype.com is not affected by the behavior. The only time “normal” Skype users are affected is when they communicate with TOM-Skype users.
What is TOM-Skype and what is the difference between it and Skype?
If you go to www.skype.com from China, you are redirected to skype.tom.com — so that’s [the] version most Chinese people will use.
In 2004 Skype developed a relationship with TOM Online, a leading wireless provider in China, and announced a joint venture in 2005. Skype and TOM Online produced a special version of the Skype software, known as TOM-Skype, for use in China.
What is Skype saying, have they said anything to you?
I contacted Skype to have the security issue fixed before the report was released. So, they have configured the servers so that one can no longer view the logs and they have deleted sensitive files, such as the one containing the encryption key. Other than that contact, I’ve only seen the statements they’ve made to reporters.
The irony here is that if I find someone using the “F” word inappropriately, at my discretion, they may be deleted from my Facebook friends or Twitter contacts. In one case I reported the use to the person’s parent; that person continues to be a Facebook friend but now posts without the expletives. The paranoid in me could ask “are the Chinese trying to clean up the expression of the English language?”
In closing, I would recall that Skype was involved as an element of the process in getting out to the world the message when some “Free Tibet” demonstrators put a banner up on the Great Wall of China last spring.
Hat tip to Rebecca MacKinnon for pointing to this Q&A. As mentioned in my comment to her post, for the first time in its five year history, we have seen a timely response in a crisis situation directly from the top executive at Skype; hopefully this reflects on the new directions and attitude Skype’s new management team is taking in becoming more transparent with the public. Of course, along with the reported dialogue between Nart and Skype personnel, it means all the technology speculators out there have no opportunity to exercise their minds by delving into the (non)-complexity of how this was detected and corrected. But the blogosphere will survive; other issues will be taken up.