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7/2/2009
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China's Green Dam 'Definitely' Coming

The controversial requirement that PCs in China come with the Green Dam Web filter may have been postponed, but the rule will be implemented, a Chinese official insists.

Celebrations following the Chinese government's last minute decision to delay its requirement that all PCs sold in the country come with Web filtering software known as Green Dam may be premature.

An unidentified Ministry of Industry and Information Technology official on Thursday told China Daily that it is only a matter of time before the rule get implemented. "The government will definitely carry on the directive on Green Dam," he reportedly said.

Such sentiment belies the notion that China has backed down. Indeed, when Western democracies like Australia, Britain and Germany all support forms of Web site filtering to protect children and silence hate speech, China can hardly be expected to do any less.

And China's recent introduction of new rules imposing content tracking requirements on sexual health sites and limiting the redemption of virtual currencies, not to mention its condemnation of Google for displaying porn links, demonstrates that the government's enthusiasm for such restrictions isn't a passing fad.

Indeed, the Green Dam software is already widely installed in schools and Internet cafes despite its well-documented security problems.

That's not to say resistance is futile. Rebecca MacKinnon, assistant professor at the Journalism & Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong, sees the events of the past few weeks as a sign that both industry and individuals can influence Chinese government policy, particularly on matters of information and technology that affect people across the country.

"The Green Dam episode proves yet again that when companies respond to critics by saying things like: 'it's beyond our control if we want to do business in China' or 'there's nothing we can do or we will get kicked out,' that is a huge pile of, well, equine excrement," she said in a blog post on Thursday.

Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, among other technology companies, have all made the argument they must obey the law in countries where they do business, particularly in the context of China. Yet when faced with a law that would harm their businesses by forcing insecure and allegedly infringing software upon consumers, the tech industry managed -- with the help of the U.S. government and Internet users in China -- to postpone the implementation of that law.

The message for businesses is don't be spineless.

"Ethical business practices that demonstrate respect for users' and customers' interests and rights -- despite a very difficult regulatory environment -- will serve companies better in the long run," said MacKinnon. "A roll-over-and-play-dead policy is no way to build a brand's reputation in China or anywhere else."

Black Hat is like no other security conference. It happens in Las Vegas, July 25-30. Find out more and register.

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