HONG-KONG: The oft-trumpeted claim by internet communications giant Skype  that its secure servers "protect users from unauthorized eavesdropping" (government monitoring, for example) has been torpedoed by the commissars of the People's Paradise.

Canadian researchers last week reported that TOM-Skype – a  Skype joint venture in China with Hong-Kong partner TOM Online – has been monitoring subscribers' phone and messaging usage.

The practise was uncovered while interrogating unsecured servers operated by the joint venture, when the Canadians identified technology that monitors users' text chats, the identities of voice-callers, and the content of stored messages containing politically sensitive material.

Skype's promotional claims include the use of encryption to "protect users from unauthorized eavesdropping", inferring that its communications are safe from government monitoring.

Such claims have caused Skype to be widely used by Chinese dissidents. TOM-Skype has 69 million registered users.

Skype spokeswoman Jennifer Caukin admits that Tom Online's surveillance includes a text filter that blocked certain words in chat messages. But, she claims, this had been changed "without our knowledge or consent and we are extremely concerned".

"We deeply apologize for the breach of privacy on TOM's servers in China and we are urgently addressing this situation with TOM."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff