U.S. State Dept. Condemns China's Green Dam Filter As Boycott Brews

China is insisting that computer makers install Web-filtering software known as Green Dam on all PCs sold in the country after July 1.
In response to China's recently disclosed requirement that computer makers install Web-filtering software known as Green Dam on all PCs sold in the country after July 1, the U.S. government has lodged a formal objection with Chinese government officials.

Officials from the State Department, the Commerce Department, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative met with officials from China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and Commerce Ministry to express concern about the filtering mandate, a State Department spokesperson confirmed Monday.

The technology industry has been waiting for this kind of government support. In 2006, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, stung by bad press for surrendering user information to Chinese authorities, asked the U.S. government to treat censorship as a trade barrier.

Industry interest groups have complained about onerous requirements of this sort before, but seldom do so forcefully enough to jeopardize the business dealings of member companies or to get much attention. A week ago, a coalition of industry trade groups -- the Information Technology Industry Council, the Software & Information Industry Association, the Telecommunications Industry Association, and TechAmerica -- urged the Chinese government to reconsider its mandate.

The Green Dam software has been ridiculed inside and outside of China for being ineffective, insecure, and a waste of Chinese taxpayer money. Subsequent news reports have stated that installation of the software is optional, but other accounts maintain that the Chinese government has not changed its position.

The U.S. government's complaint comes after the Chinese government last week criticized Google for providing links and search suggestions associated with "unhealthy" content and began blocking certain search results, a clampdown some believe is motivated by the Chinese government's desire to deflect attention from its unpopular filtering mandate.

Rebecca MacKinnon, assistant professor at the Journalism & Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong, recently reported in a blog post that the Chinese government has been asking media organizations "to tone down the criticism and take on a more positive tone toward Green Dam."

If the Chinese government is seeking to divert attention from the Green Dam controversy, its plan isn't working. Prominent Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on Monday called for Internet users to go offline on July 1 to protest the government's plan. Echoed by press reports and bloggers, the boycott may well materialize and have some impact.

InformationWeek Analytics has published an analysis of the current state of identity management. Download the report here (registration required).