Microsoft has often been accused of spying on the Skype users in China, but no clear evidence had been provided until now.
Jeffrey Knockel, a science graduate at the University of New Mexico, has managed to break into the technology being used by TOM-Skype, the Chinese version of Skype that’s provided by Microsoft to local users together with communication firm TOM.
After days of investigations, Knockel has managed to discover the system implemented into the app that’s reportedly tracking users’ conversations.
According to a Bloomberg report citing the young graduate, TOM-Skype automatically starts recording a conversation once one of the users sends a word included in a pre-defined list of keywords.
TOM’s servers start intercepting the conversation immediately, with stored data comprising both usernames involved in the chat, as well as the sent and received messages.
Unsurprisingly, the application uses an encryption system that restricts access to the stored conversation, but Knockel managed to bypass protection as well.
It appears that TOM engineers are updating the list of prohibited words on a regular basis, most likely based on events taking place in the country.
While nobody can tell for sure whether the Chinese government is behind this system or not, chances are that local authorities are the ones requesting TOM to record specific conversations, as users’ privacy has always been a controversial subject in the country.
Of course, Microsoft doesn’t want to comment on this subject, but the company said that TOM is entirely responsible for everything that concerns the local Skype version because it’s the majority stakeholder.
The system currently employed by TOM-Skype isn’t affecting Chinese users exclusively, as the same conversation recording technology could be used to monitor chats between a local user and someone living overseas, as long as they type one of the keywords included in the aforementioned list.