04/21/2006, 00.00
CHINA
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Skype too allies itself with Chinese regime

The company's executive director admitted that its Chinese partner "filters and censors messages passing through the portal". There is a growing list of companies forgoing freedom of expression – a "basic Internet philosophy" – to keep their place in the Chinese market.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The chief executive of Skype Technologies has admitted that its Chinese partner filters text messages in line with strict censorship laws of the communist state.

His admission is indicative of ever increasing repression of freedom of expression in China. Apart from strict monitoring of the internet and of foreign companies selling their online services in the country, Beijng has, since October 2005, tightened its grip on sms [instantaneous message service through cell phones], which are constantly controlled by the Ministry of Information and Industry.

Niklas Zennstrom told the Financial Times that Tom Online, the Chinese internet portal that works for Skype in China, censored messages containing words like "Falun Gong" and "Dalai Lama".

"Tom Online has improved its filter system for censorship purposes, and applied it to its portal. These are the rules and this is what everyone else in that market is doing," added the director. For Zennstrom, Skype's complicity with Chinese censorship "is no different from obeying rules governing business in western countries and does not put users at risk."

He was alluding to other companies – like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! – operational in the computer market, who accept, without reservations, tight controls imposed by China's Communist party. Yahoo! has been severely criticized because, thanks to its help, the regime managed to arrest three Chinese dissidents who used to exchange emails criticizing the anti-democratic rule enforced in China.

The US-based portal not only provided the identification codes of two users – thus leading to their imprisonment – it also handed over complete texts of their correspondence to the court authorities. This was used to formulate the decisive charge that led to their sentencing.

At the moment, the Chinese web market ranks second worldwide with 111 million consumers, set to increase to 128 million by the end of 2006. With an increase of around 50,000 new users every day, the market is aiming to take first place within a couple of years, beating the United States.

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