Skype comes clean over China censor

Skype has admitted that its partner in China has filtered text messages, but claims that compliance with local censorship laws is a necessary evil if it is to continue operating in the world’s most populous country.

Niklas Zennström, chief executive of the Internet telephony company told the Financial Times that its Chinese partner, Tom Online, had censored messages including words and names such as Dalai Lama.

‘Tom had implemented a text filter, which is what everyone else in that market is doing,’ Zennström said. ‘Those are the regulations.’

He said that obeying laws in China is no different to obeying them any where else and that at no stage are the privacy or security of users compromised.

‘I may like or not like the laws and regulations to operate businesses in the UK or Germany or the US, but if I do business there I choose to comply with those laws and regulations,’ he said. ‘I can try to lobby to change them, but I need to comply with them.’

However, it is somewhat ironic that the company that has done so much to make speech free, is happy to go along with laws that curtail free speech.

Currently Skype users in China who wish to communicate internationally are restricted to text based messaging; Zennström said that the company is still talking to the Chinese authorities about adding IP telephony.

It remains to be seen whether Skype attracts the level of ire which followed the news that Google had agreed to self-censorship of search results in order to operate in China. Certainly Skype, now owned by eBay, does not have the counterculture cachet that Google had before its Chinese adventure left it somewhat tarnished.

Yahoo! also came on for widespread condemnation after a Chinese pro-democracy campaigner was gaoled for 10 years using evidence garnered from the Internet company.

Microsoft has also faced criticism. All three companies, who between them dominate Internet search, were accused by a US congressman of having ‘enthusiastically volunteered for China’s censorship brigade’.

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