Vulnerabilities / Threats

6/29/2009
10:34 AM
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Sony Begins Shipping PCs With Green Dam Filter

Company beats Chinese government's July 1 deadline, but Sony disclaims responsibility for any damage caused by the Web filtering software.

Sony appears to have begun shipping computers in China with Green Dam installed, in advance of the Chinese government's July 1 deadline. But the company is disclaiming responsibility for any damage caused by the Web filtering software.

A photo of a Sony document disclaiming the authenticity, legality, and functionality of Green Dam has been posted online at RConversation, a blog maintained by Rebecca MacKinnon, assistant professor at the Journalism & Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong. The picture was originally posted via TwitPic by a Chinese blogger in Hangzhou, China, who found the notice in a box with a new Sony Vaio computer.

Sony did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to a translation provided by MacKinnon, the document is titled "Sony Disclaimer Notice Concerning the Green Dam - Youth Escort" Software." It states that Green Dam is provided in response to Chinese government requirements and that Sony cannot guarantee that the software is legal or functional. Sony disavows responsibility for any harm or loss incurred through the use of Green Dam. It also notes that Green Dam does not work on computers with a 64-bit operating system, so 64-bit versions of Windows do not include Green Dam. (Presumably, it does not work on computers running Apple's Mac OS X either.)

Green Dam is supposed to prevent Internet users from encountering "unhealthy" content online, specifically pornography. But independent analysis of the software has found that it also blocks political content.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that a group of international business associations that includes major technology companies had taken the unusual step of sending a letter to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao asking the government to withdraw the Green Dam mandate. This follows a similar complaint issued by officials from the State Department, the Commerce Department, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative earlier last week.

MacKinnon has also posted what she claims are draft versions of Chinese government documents from 2006 that describe the technical requirements for the Web filtering software sought by the government. The documents have not yet been completely translated to English. However, there is "language in there about having a remote access capability," she notes. She also points out that the documents reference "possible mobile phone standards of similar nature."

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