A report from Canadian researchers affiliated to the University of Toronto have revealed that China has been blocking messages that contain certain ‘sensitive words’.
Citizen Lab has come across a database, which has thousands of words, that are considered to be politically sensitive. Whenever a Skype message contains any of these words, it gets automatically blocked. The database on which these words are stored also stores the personal information of the users, including their IP address, username and phone number. The database is insecure and hence is publicly available, which is a blatant breach of security for the users.
According to Citizen Lab, there is a surveillance system in place, which selects and stores messages transmitted through online telephones, and text messages. The messages that get deleted may contain some commonly used words such as democracy, Taiwan, Tibet, Voice of America, milk powder, Olympic games, earthquake, Tiananmen and SARS. The database reportedly contains over 1,50,000 messages, and it is possible to identify all the senders and recipients by entering just a username.
The internet service provider Skype, which runs its services in China in a joint venture with the Chinese company TOM online, under the name TOM-Skype, says that they are aware of the filtering of data by the Chinese authorities, but are concerned by reports about the resultant breach of security.
Citizen Lab has enquired whether or not Tom online and Skype are cooperating with the Chinese authorities and if so to what extent.
President of Skype, Josh Silverman has said that it is common knowledge that that Tom Online follows procedures to meet the local laws and regulations, such as monitoring and blocking messages containing certain words, which the Chinese government disapproves of. However according to policy these messages are to be deleted. They will have to investigate to know if the policy has been changed to allow storage of these messages and why.