Today Microsoft announced that it would be taking hold of Skype’s operations in China, where it currently lays claim to 100 million registered users.
Wait… doesn’t Microsoft own Skype? Yes, but not in China. While the Redmond tech giant purchased the popular video chat software back in May 2011, the deal excluded Skype’s operations in China. There, Skype had been running as a joint venture with Tom Online, a Chinese internet services firm, since 2004. Users in China who entered www.skype.com into their browser would be re-directed to skype.tom.com, where they could then download the Chinese client.
Skype in China functioned more-or-less the same as other versions of Skype, save for one key difference: as is common practice in China, Tom Online would use text-filtering software to monitor discussions of sensitive issues like Taiwan or Tiananmen, and had the ability to link these discussions to the personal information of the senders and recipients.
As a result, Microsoft’s takeover of China’s Skype operations from Tom Online has two implications. In terms of business strategy, Microsoft is snatching up 100 million more users on its video chat platform, which is arguably the company’s most promising asset outside of Microsoft Office.
In terms of privacy, meanwhile, one can be almost certain that Microsoft will comply with the same censorship and monitoring policies that Tom Online, Tencent, Sina, and other domestic companies have complied with for years.
Bing, Microsoft’s search product, also heeds to the party line by censoring its search results in China.
Of course, some might say that the company has already gotten its hands dirty on its home turf, what with its alleged dealings with the NSA. The company was one of many US tech giants accused of providing encrypted user data to the government through the Prism program.
Skype currently has over 300 million users worldwide.
(Editing by Paul Bischoff)