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
- Open up Skype on your computer
- Click About from one of the menus
- 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.