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Microsoft announces new Skype China partner

Guangming Founder gets the gig as snooping fears persist

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Microsoft has announced a new JV partner offering Skype services to users in China, but it's likely to continue monitoring text chats and blocking banned keywords according to local laws.

Previous China partner TOM wrongly declared earlier this month that Microsoft would be taking sole control of Skype in China from 24 November.

That can't happen by law. In fact Redmond has found another partner – Guangming Founder (GMF) which will operate the service locally.

A canned statement from Judd Harcombe, head of global market development at Skype, spoke of the new collaboration putting both firms “at the heart of helping people do more by creating connections and bringing them together”.

However, as a local service it should still have to comply with local laws, which means automatically filtering and blocking text conversations if they contain banned keywords and storing a copy of the message to its servers.

There is a suspicion that voice comms data must also be stored so that it can be made available to the authorities on request.

The beef that many rights groups have about this is not necessarily that Microsoft is complying with local regulations - although this isn’t ideal for a company committed to online freedom of expression - but that users in China are automatically directed to the China-specific site, which looks almost identical to the international Skype service.

With the new joint venture announced on Tuesday, Microsoft had a chance to change this and make local users aware of the difference.

However, there’s virtually no mention of the JV partner on the local site, which could be confusing for users thinking they're getting the non-censored version.

That said, with the NSA at large there's no guarantee that any online comms are safe from snooping.

“We hope Microsoft can publish the details of the difference, especially regarding censorship and surveillance,” non-profit body Greatfire.org told The Reg.

“Our old questions stand," the organisation added. "Will it have more or less surveillance capacity compared to the TOM version and the ‘global’ version? What happens to the text messages, along with millions of records containing personal information stored on Chinese servers now that the partnership with TOM has ended?” ®

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