At Bloomberg Businessweek, Vernon Silver describes the unraveling of encrypted blacklists used to monitor instant messages in the Chinese version of Skype, which is produced as a joint venture between Microsoft and Chinese wireless Internet company Tom Online.
[…] Knockel, a bearded, yoga-practicing son of a retired U.S. Air Force officer, has repeatedly beaten the ever-changing encryption that cloaks Skype's Chinese service. This has allowed him to compile for the first time the thousands of terms—such as "Amnesty International" and "Tiananmen"—that prompt Skype in China to intercept typed messages and send copies to its computer servers in the country. Some messages are blocked altogether. […]
Recent additions include phrases with the word "Ferrari," a reference to the March 2012 car-crash death of a Communist Party leader's son, and "723," a reference to the July 23, 2011, date of a train crash that killed 40 people. Knockel says one of the most surprising findings is that the latest enhancement to TOM-Skype sends information about both sender and recipient to the Chinese computer servers. That means that even users of the standard Skype program outside China are subject to monitoring if they communicate with users of the Chinese version, he says. "If you are talking to someone using TOM-Skype, you yourself are being surveilled," he says.
Silver reports that Microsoft has shrugged off responsibility onto its Chinese partner, stating that "as majority partner in the joint venture, TOM has established procedures to meet its obligations under local laws."