Notable Quotes on TOM-Skype Story

Josh Silverman, President of Skype

What have you learned from TOM about the uploading and storing of certain chats, and what are you doing about it?

What we have discovered in our conversations with TOM is that they in fact were required to do this by the Chinese government.

Josh Silverman, President of Skype

In April 2006, Skype publicly disclosed that TOM operated a text filter that blocked certain words in chat messages, and it also said that if the message is found unsuitable for displaying, it is simply discarded and not displayed or transmitted anywhere. It was our understanding that it was not TOM’s protocol to upload and store chat messages with certain keywords, and we are now inquiring with TOM to find out why the protocol changed.


In 2006, Skype publicly disclosed that Tom operated a text filter that blocked certain words on chat messages but that it did not compromise Tom customers’ privacy. Last night, we learned that this practice was changed without our knowledge or consent and we are extremely concerned. We deeply apologize for the breach of privacy on Tom’s servers in China and we are urgently addressing this situation with Tom.

TOM Online

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

Ronald J. Deibert, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto.

“This is the worst nightmares of the conspiracy theorists around surveillance coming true. It’s ‘X-Files’ without the aliens.”

Rebecca MacKinnon, Hong Kong University

“We may never know whether some of those people whose conversations were logged have gone to jail or have had their lives ruined in various ways as a result of this,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, an Internet expert at Hong Kong University.

Isaac Mao

“The problem with Skype is that they did more than what people expected. They over-satisfied the government,” said Isaac Mao, one of China’s earliest and best known bloggers.

Danny O’Brien, EFF

While it might disclaim responsibility, arguing that this political spyware was not directly written by its own coders, the company is directly implicated by its close relationship with TOM. When Chinese visitors go to the Skype homepage, they are redirected to a page offering a download of TOM’s compromised client version.

Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy & Technology

“Companies have to start looking at their human rights risks as part of their bottom line when they go into difficult markets — and plainly they are not doing it,… It’s not enough to say that we have to comply with local laws. It’s not clear to me that any of this complies with China’s law. It’s just the perfect example of what not to do at every level.”

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center

“For users of Skype, this is not good news,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the E-Commerce Times. “Skype was supposed to enable more secure communications. It’s largely prevented this kind of interception from occurring.”

Bruce Schneier, the chief security technology officer of BT Group PLC

“For a couple of years, maybe more, people have had the suspicion … that Skype pretends to be secure but actually isn’t,” said Bruce Schneier, the chief security technology officer of BT Group PLC, the British telecom carrier. “The Chinese eavesdropping on Skype text messages only adds to the PR problems, the image problems, that Skype has among those who care about security,” Schneier added.

Vincent Brossel, Reporters Without Borders

According to Vincent Brossel, in charge of Asian affairs for the news organisation Reporters Without Borders, these revelations are not surprising. “We knew this for months, but this is the first time that a report provides concrete proof”, Brossel told FRANCE 24. “Chinese dissidents have been telling us for a while now that their communications (on the Chinese version of Skype) do not get through, or are subject to interference.”


It’s your brand at stake, regardless of whether you’re a minority shareholder, you simply licensed the core technology, or you simply had no idea what was going on. This was true for Yahoo, who surrendered all control of what happened with their brand in China when they sold their China operations to It’s true for Skype’s JV with in China. A visit to the home page of the Skype-Tom home page reveals tons of Skype branding, while TOM appears only in text links at the top and bottom of the page.

Your Chinese JV partner doesn’t care what your stakeholders back home think. This is especially true if you’ve surrendered control of the technology or hold only a minority stake. It’s concerns first and foremost will be 1) the Chinese authorities, 2) profitability or potential thereof and 3) winning Chinese customers. The concerns of your overseas stakeholders will be somewhere way down the list of priorities.

The Chinese government will be involved somehow. They will set censorship guidelines, listen in, demand personal information on users who cross the line or all of the above. Now refer back to the first point in the previous paragraph.

Derek Bambauer

eBay (which has thus far eluded the scrutiny that Microsoft, Google, and others have faced over operations in China) has responded by saying they’ll have TOM-Skype fix the “security breach.” No, not the one that stores all these messages – the one that let Nart access them. This is like spotting a sewage leak like by the flies above it, and vowing to do something about those flies.

Rebecca MacKinnon

Skype is now learning the lesson Yahoo! already learned the hard way: that if you leave your users’ privacy and security to your local partner to sort out without paying too much attention to details or thinking through how things might play out, you could burn your users badly and badly damage the credibility of your global brand.

Ross Anderson, University of Cambridge, U.K

“The real issue here is that if you’re an American company and you value your public image, you should be very careful about who your partners are in foreign countries,” says Ross Anderson, a professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge, U.K. “It used to be the case that surveillance was done more or less on a per-country basis,” he adds. “But more and more, the censorship may be on a per-company basis.”

One comment.

  1. […] of Western governments to try and censor the web and the role of Western multinationals, such as Skype, to assist the Chinese regime in its filtering […]

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