The New York Times reports that a Canadian human-rights activist cum researcher at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto has discovered that instant messaging (IM) conversations over the Tom-Skype network were being blocked, tracked and recorded on a cluster of eight computers located in China.
The system will block messages containing restricted words, record the message that contains the words, record the personal information of the person in China or caller ID’s of voice conversations. The research did not find that actual voice conversations we being recorded though.
Sounding like an extension of the Golden Shield Project or Great Firewall (GFW) that blocks web sites containing similar restricted words, it seems that Chinese censors once again have big business by the balls. Tom Group is a Hutchinson Whampoa / Cheung Kong Holdings JV and Skype is owned by online auction giant eBay, certainly not organizations who would voluntarily expose themselves to law suits by unwittingly collecting and leaking user information.
The recorded chat conversations were discovered on the Tom Online computers due to a misconfiguration that allowed the files to be viewed with just a browser. This news comes only a week after Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales got face time with Cai Mingzhao, Vice Director of China’s State Council Information Office, the office responsible for unblocking Wikipedia during the Olympics.
Oh and for the uber-geeks, here‘s the report by the guy from the Citizen Lab.
Photo by SarahNaomi
UPDATE: Josh Silverman addresses the privacy breach