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Skype uses peer pressure defense to explain China text censorship

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VoIP firm Skype has admitted that its Chinese partner filters instant messages sent using its software to comply with local censorship laws. Tom Online, Skype's joint venture partner in China, has "implemented a text filter, which is what everyone else in that market is doing. Those are the regulations", Skype chief executive Niklas Zennstrom told the Financial Times.

The technology blocks messages containing phrases such as "Falun Gong" and "Dalai Lama" to satisfy local laws. China, along with the US and Germany, are the three biggest markets for Skype in terms of active users of its free internet telephony service, so it's not entirely surprising that the eBay subsidiary has taken the same stance as Google and other US high tech firms in kowtowing to Beijing's demands.

Yahoo! has been strongly criticised for handing over email data to the Chinese authorities that assisted in the prosecution and imprisonment of three dissidents.

On Wednesday, pressure group Reporters Without Borders highlighted the case of Jiang Lijun, 39, who was jailed on subversion charges for four years in November 2003. The evidence against Jiang reportedly came in the form of draft emails stored in his Yahoo! account, which the internet giant's Hong Kong subsidiary handed over to prosecutors.

Zennstrom said the censorship actions of Tom Online avoided putting Chinese users of Skype at similar risk. "Those things are in no way jeopardising the privacy or the security of any of the users," he said. ®

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