China's Internet Filtering Plan Widely Criticized

Critics claim "Green Dam Youth Escort" Internet filtering software for PCs violates licensing agreements and anti-monopoly laws.
The Chinese government's mandate that all personal computers sold in China include Web filtering software has prompted widespread criticism, both inside and outside China.

Those opposed to the plan -- which requires all PCs sold in the country after July 1 to include "Green Dam Youth Escort" software to prevent "the poisoning of our youth's minds by harmful information" -- say the software would make computers less secure and expose private data.

Critics also claim the software relies on code developed by third parties in violation of licensing agreements, and that it violates anti-monopoly laws, wastes public money, and doesn't work very well.

An English translation of user comments on the EastSouthWestNorth blog shows broad dissatisfaction with the software and the Chinese government's plan.

U.S. computer makers have been more diplomatic in their observations. "Dell is aware of the policy and along with the rest of the industry we're reviewing it and will work with government officials to understand its application," a Dell spokesperson said.

"HP is working closely with the trade industry association ITI to seek additional information, clarify open questions, and monitor developments on this matter," a Hewlett-Packard spokesperson said in an e-mail.

The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), a trade group that counts both Dell and HP as members, voiced slightly stronger opposition on Tuesday. The ITI, along with the Software & Information Industry Association, the Telecommunications Industry Association, and TechAmerica, urged "the Chinese government to reconsider implementing its new mandatory filtering software requirement and would welcome the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue. We believe there should be an open and healthy dialogue on how parental control software can be offered in the market in ways that ensure privacy, system reliability, freedom of expression, the free flow of information, security and user choice."

It remains to be seen how the Chinese government's mandate will affect Apple, given that the Green Dam software only works on computers running Windows. Apple, a member of the ITIC, did not respond to a request for comment.

In a release from the Xinhua News Agency, which is controlled by the Chinese government, Zhang Chenmin, general manager of Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co., maker of Green Dam, defended his company's software. He insisted that the software is optional, isn't turned on by default, and isn't spyware.

Although Jinhui's founder told The Wall Street Journal that that the software's purpose was to block pornographic content, a collaborative analysis of Green Dam posted to Google Docs claims that the software also blocks political terms like Falun Gong.

If the requirement to install Green Dam is observed, Firefox may see its usage soar in China. Green Dam reportedly doesn't work with Firefox or works unreliably. The same may be true for Apple's Safari Web browser, which isn't among the compatible browsers listed in the collaborative analysis.

The Green Dam software has already been installed more than 2 million times and is present in about 80% of elementary and high schools in China, according to the Chinese government.

Rebecca MacKinnon, assistant professor at the Journalism & Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong, believes that the Chinese government will come to realize that its mandate is unworkable. "As the week progresses I'm putting more of my money on the likelihood that the Green Dam filtering software edict will not get implemented, or efforts at enforcement will fade quickly," she said in a blog post on Wednesday. "One thing Western observers need to remember is that China has a long history of edicts targeted at the tech, telecoms, and media sectors going unenforced, quietly retracted, or morphed in practice into something very different."

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