Are you sure that's Skype you're using? How to avoid TOM in China

With over 600 million registered users, Skype is the worlds most popular online voice call service, and has also become the largest international voice carrier. Many people in China use it to keep in contact with friends abroad, as well as for international business calls. Importantly, voice calls as well as chats over Skype use a highly encrypted protocol which makes it difficult or impossible for the government to monitor what we say. In China though, as often is the case, there is a twist. Most Chinese users aren't in fact using Skype, but instead a client made by TOM, Skype's local partner.

 

What is TOM?

To the user, TOM looks very much the real Skype client. Behind the interface though, there are crucial differences. TOM is a company operating in China under Chinese regulations, meaning that all traffic is open to control by the government. Skype has been heavily critized for this cooperation, both in the media and on it's own forum. And here's a clip from NTDTV talking about the differences (in Chinese).

How to tell the difference between Tom and the real Skype

  1. Open up Skype on your computer
  2. Click About from one of the menus
  3. Does it say TOM anywhere?

If yes, then you are not in fact using Skype but TOM, and all your chats and calls are open for control by the government. You probably didn't notice when you downloaded and installed it. This is because, if you're in China, when you try to visit [skype.com] you are redirected to skype.tom.com. And unless you're on a VPN, there's no way to avoid the redirection.

Hey, what's this redirection?

When you are redirected to a website hosted in China you should be aware that Chinese regulation applies - meaning that whatever you read and write can be censored as well as reported to the authorities. You might easily be redirected without noticing. Because of this problem, we have given a special status to websites that are redirected to China.

How to get the real Skype behind the GFW

If you're on a VPN it's easy - just download the real Skype from skype.com and you're set to go. Once you've installed it, you can disconnect the VPN, make a call and enjoy the secure encryption. What if you don't have a VPN? In fact, you can still download the real Skype - using direct dowload links. Three of these - Skype for Windows, Skype for Mac and Skype for Ubuntu are listed in the table top-right on this page. If you follow those links, you can avoid the redirection and get the real Skype.

Will Skype be blocked in China?

In December, news that China would make Skype illegal emerged, but so far that has come to nothing - Skype is still possible to use behind the Great Firewall. We'll keep monitoring the situation.

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Wed, Mar 19, 2014

Bing Bests Baidu Censorship

Abstract

Independent research from Xia Chu has shown that, in addition to non-China content, Bing censors a vast amount of content that is hosted inside China and which is not censored by China-based internet companies like Baidu. After communicating our issues with Microsoft, Bing removed certain censorship rules (kudos to Bing), but much work remains to be done.

We recently called for Microsoft to release its transparency report for Bing (as have others - full disclosure, Rebecca sits on our advisory board).  Microsoft has yet to respond to this request. But Xia’s independent research of Bing’s China censorship policy could be regarded as a de facto transparency report for the search engine.

In this thorough study, the results of which we have verified, Xia examined Bing's SERP (search engine results page) for over 30,000 sensitive and nonsensitive query terms, and launched these queries from both inside and outside of China. Comparing and examining these results, plus querying with special search operators, reveals unprecedented detail on Bing's China filtering practices.

The main findings from Xia’s research include:

  • Bing has a list of “forbidden” terms where no results are shown. 139 such terms have been identified.

  • Bing has a blacklist of websites that it never shows to China users. 329 such websites are identified. (5 have been lifted after our communication with Microsoft.)

Thu, Feb 13, 2014

Setting Bing's Broken Record Straight

We can also now trace complicit Bing Chinese censorship back to 2009 as highlighted by Nicholas Kristof. It looks like Microsoft has indeed changed its censorship mechanism after our research made headlines this week. But Bing is still seriously flawed on two fronts: its algorithm favors pro-Chinese government websites by default on all search terms in simplified Chinese and their front end mistakenly delivers explicit censorship of search results on some search terms for users from all over the world.

Wed, Feb 12, 2014

No error here: Microsoft deploying Chinese censorship on global scale

Microsoft says: “The results themselves are and were unaltered outside of China”. This is simply not true.

Tue, Feb 11, 2014

Bing practicing Chinese censorship globally

Our latest research indicates that Microsoft’s search engine Bing is censoring English and Chinese language search on its home page in order to exclude certain results. We have also noticed that Bing is practicing subtle censorship with search results. In both instances, Bing is filtering out links and stories that the Chinese authorities would deem damaging.

Thu, Jan 23, 2014

Massive blocking of foreign media in China

After Tuesday’s report Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings of China’s Elite by ICIJ, China blocked a number of major newspaper websites. All websites below were blocked after publishing copies of the original report. They're all listed as the publishing partners for “Chinaleaks” stories on ICIJ's website. The Great Firewall rarely blocks non-Chinese websites. Many of them have published the Chinese version of the report which probably explains the unusual development.

Newspaper

Main Language

Article

http://www.icij.org

English

Chinese

http://www.theguardian.com

English

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Comments

skype tom is a nightmare.. Almost impossible not to download in China and it is heavily censored and totally monitored. Okay if you're a schmuck and dont' care then go for it.. but its' way too scary to use.

I started with Skype while in the USA. However I did buy Skype credits while in china. Now all Skype go to TOM. Skype service told me to create a new account. I created a new account while I was in the US. The Problem remains. Even the Skype message board direct to Skype Tom. From Skype service “use a different computer. Not a good answer. PLEASE NOTE. Skype Tom is not the same as Skype US. The Chinese Secret police record all Skype Tom Traffic and several people have been imprisoned because of messages sent over Skype. “China jails dissident Zhu Yufu over poem sent on Skype--Reuters in Beijing--guardian.co.uk, Friday 10 February 2012 07.02 EST “
It would seem that Skype USA (now Microsoft) has been unwilling to address this issue. Nowhere on the Skype Terms and conditions does it state that if you use Skype while in the PRC you will forever put through Skype Tom. Now that I am in the USA, I do not know if Skype Tom and the PRC secret police still monitor my messages. This is possibly something that the US dept of justice should look into.

It's a stupid decision for skype to choose TOM.com as a partner in China. Look at their users in China, no growing up at all. Chinese ppl hates to have such a software full of advertisement and be monitored.

It's a stupid decision for skype to choose TOM.com as a partner in China. Look at their users in China, no growing up at all. Chinese ppl hates to have such a software full of advertisement and be monitored.

It's wonderful that you are getting thoughts from this post as well as from
our argument made here.

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