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Open Letter Urges Skype to Come Clean on Data Collection and Monitoring

BY Julia Wetherell | Monday, January 28 2013

TOM-Skype, the partner site that operates Skype service in China.

Skype has been coming under fire from Internet freedom advocates for its lack of transparency on user privacy. An open letter to Skype appeared online last week – undersigned by Reporters without Borders and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, among others – calling it “effectively…one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies,” and decrying “persistently unclear and confusing statements about the confidentiality of Skype conversations.” At issue are a number of concerns about how governmental and other third-party groups might be gaining access to Skype data.

Marketplace Tech reported last week that Chinese users logging onto the voice and chat service are more often using TOM-Skype, a legitimate partner site that joins the traditional Skype interface to a Chinese communications conglomerate. Like many Internet platforms in China, the service is monitored heavily by the government, and text filters are in use to block messages with unsuitable content. Journalists and activists have reported having their calls tapped on the Chinese version of Skype, akin to reports of similar suspicious monitoring on weChat.

While the letter calls out Skype for these practices in China, what it’s ultimately asking for is something that Google already does twice a year: a transparency report, providing details about the kind of data the company collects from users and outlining what kind of requests Skype receives from governments, as well as offering an understanding of what third-party operatives might be independently snooping on Skype calls.

The signatories of the letter urged Skype to consider the interests of its users to heart – whether “activists operating in countries governed by authoritarian regimes, journalists communicating with sensitive sources,” or simply people who value privacy in reaching out to their friends and family.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.