China Threatens to Pull Plug on Skype

January 2, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

Skype is confident that its engineers will return the program to normal in a few hours. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Skype is confident that its engineers will return the program to normal in a few hours. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Chinese authorities are threatening to pull the plug on Skype, a popular voice over internet protocol (VoIP) carrier, because the world’s largest remaining communist block is attempting to target “illegal” internet phone providers.

The Beijing Ministry of Information and Industry Technology (MIIT) polices the postal service, Internet, wireless, broadcasting, communications, production of electronic and information goods, software industry, and the promotion of the national knowledge economy.

"We are currently working together with relevant departments to launch a crackdown on illegal voice-over-IP (VoIP) telephony," reads a statement carried on the MIIT website.

"We are looking to recruit members of the public who have clues in cases of illegal Internet telephony," said the statement, dated Dec. 10 but featured prominently in official media reports on Friday.

The statement provided a hotline number for anyone wanting to report information to the authorities.

The powerful government body claims that it has been collecting evidence against companies such as Skype for legal claims against them. Although Skype Technologies SA, the world’s largest carrier of international phones calls, was not specifically named, this is a potential risk to its business presence in China because it does not possess an operational licence or official approval by the telecoms regulator.

“Skype is not banned,” Jennifer Caukin, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based spokeswoman for the service provider, said in an e-mail. “Our users in China currently can access Skype via Tom Online, our majority joint venture partner.

Skype has been a popular communication channel for activists who want to share information with others more or less uncensored given the China’s attempt to strict control on the Internet, often referred to as the Great Firewall.

Skype technology enables PC-to-PC calling functionality, which is free, and cost effective PC-to-phone services as well at discounted prices. So not only are cost saving factors in play, but also the convenience of being mobile and reliant on the Internet as a platform rather than being restrained to permanent fixed telephone landline connections.

"Nearly one in six people in the world live in China, and a great many of them rely on Skype to connect with families and friends, run businesses, and call people around the world," wrote Skype's Josh Silverman in an October blog post about Chinese privacy.

Skype has received unwanted international attention lately when its global service was interrupted and raised concerns about its reliability.

Skype was sold to EBay Inc., in 2005, and then subsequently sold the majority of its stake late 2009 for an estimate of $2 billion to a group that includes Skype’s founders. There are around 560 million users of the service, according to the company.