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Did the Chinese Government Spy On Skype Conversations Without Ebay's Approval?

Terrorists might still be using Skype to escape eavesdropping but that couldchange soonas a Canadian researcher has found out that the Chinese government could have been spying on users of the Chinese version of Skype VoIP application without their knowledge.

Now, Skype is used mainly for its Voice over IP feature which allows free audio and video conversations to be conducted over the internet. But it also has a basic text instant messaging service which can record (and archive) your messages locally. Microsoft Live Messenger and other popular IM applications also offer this "feature" which some consider to be a potential privacy pitfall.

According toMetro, Ebay-owned Skype has acknowledged that its Chinese partner TOM Online has been archiving messages that contained sensitive keywords like "democracy", "tibet", "Falun Gong" or "Milk Powder" since 2006 by using a server cluster that was so poorly secured that Nart Villeneuve of the University of Torronto - and part of a Canadian human rights group - managed to download more than one million stored messages.

The problem is that other users and potentially the Chinese central government could also have accessed these details with potentially devastating effects for some Chinese citizens. Amongst other things, it highlights the difficulties big technology companies like Google and Yahoo have encountered when working with the Chinese authorities in the past.

Furthermore, Skype was aware that its Joint Venture with TOM, TOM-Skype, was blocking messages but not uploading and storing them and has already promised a fix within 24 hours for Tom-Skype users.

According to some sources, China has 30,000 "Internet Police" who monitor the internet activity of internet users behind what some call the Great Firewall of China.

However, logging and tracking of voice conversations is much more difficult due to the amount of data being transferred between two or more parties simultaneously and the conversations are encrypted. Furthermore, Skype has confirmed that "since its inception in 2003 Skype has never created a back door to the Skype software".

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.