[Foundation-l] China Requires Censoring Software on New PCs

Kul Takanao Wadhwa kwadhwa at wikimedia.org
Mon Jun 8 18:27:55 UTC 2009

We have been talking about how we survived being blocked by the Chinese 
government during the last June 4th ban but now this is on the table. We 
have to see how this will now affect us.

June 9, 2009
China Requires Censoring Software on New PCs

BEIJING — China has issued a sweeping directive requiring all personal 
computers sold in the country to include sophisticated software that can 
filter out pornography and other “unhealthy information” from the Internet.

The software, which manufacturers must install on all new PC’s starting 
July 1, allows the government to update computers regularly with an 
ever-changing list of banned Web sites.

The rules, issued last month, ratchet up Internet restrictions already 
among the most stringent in the world. China regularly blocks Web sites 
that discuss the Dalai Lama, the 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square 
protesters, and the Falun Gong, the banned spiritual movement. But 
free-speech advocates say they fear the new software could make it even 
more difficult for China’s 300 million Internet users to access 
uncensored news and information.

“This is a very bad thing,” said Charles Mok, chairman of the Internet 
Society, an advocacy group in Hong Kong. “It’s like downloading spyware 
onto your computer, but the government is the spy.”

Details of the new regulations, posted Monday on a government Web site, 
were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Called “Green Dam” — green being a foil to the yellow smut of 
pornography — the software is designed to filter out sexually explicit 
images and words, according to the company that designed it. Computer 
experts, however, warn that once installed, the software could be 
directed to block all manner of content or allow the government to 
monitor Internet use and collect personal information.

PC makers who serve the Chinese market, among them Dell, Lenovo and 
Hewlett-Packard, said they were studying the new rules and declined to 
comment. But privately, industry executives in the United States said 
they were upset by the new rules, which were issued by the Ministry of 
Industry and Information Technology with no consultation and no advance 
warning. Beyond the nettlesome issue of abetting government censorship, 
they said six weeks was not enough time to shift production on such a 
large scale. “Many of us are going to take it in the neck with this 
mandate,” said one executive. “It has put people into five-alarm mode.”

More than 40 million personal computers were sold last year in China, 
one of the fastest growing markets in the world. Despite the slowing 
economy, industry analysts expect that figure to rise by 3 percent this 

A group of industry representatives met with American officials Monday 
to express their displeasure with the new rules, said Susan Stevenson, a 
spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. “We view any attempt to 
restrict the free flow of information with great concern,” she said.

Zhang Chenming, whose company, Jinhui Computer System Engineering, 
helped create Green Dam, said concerns that the software could be used 
to censor a broad range of content or monitor Internet use were 
overblown. He insisted that the software, which neutralizes programs 
designed to override China’s so-called Great Firewall, could simply be 
deleted or temporarily turned off by the user. “A parent can still use 
this computer to go to porn,” he said.

Although the directive is somewhat imprecise and suggests that 
manufacturers can provide the software as a compact disc, it also says 
that it must be installed on computer hard drives as a backup file.

“The wording may be intentionally vague but the message is clear: we 
have no choice in the matter,” said one computer executive.

Industry experts and civil libertarians say they are worried the 
software may simply be a Trojan horse for greater Internet control. The 
software developers have ties to China’s military and public security 
agencies, they point out, and that Green Dam boasts that the project has 
the backing of Li Changchun, the country’s chief propaganda official and 
a member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party

The software will be provided free, paid for by the government, and 
according to the official Green Dam website it has already been 
downloaded 3.2 million times. That number includes thousands of schools 
that were required to install the software by the end of May. The site 
claims that Chinese manufacturers, including Lenovo, Inspur and Hedy, 
have already agreed to install 52 million sets of the software on new 

In recent months China has tightened its Internet restrictions, 
including an “anti-vulgarity” campaign that has closed down thousands of 
pornographic sites but also shuttered nonsexual sites, including some of 
the most popular bulletin boards and blog hosts. China already employs 
more than 30,000 censors and thousands who “guide public opinion” by 
flooding bulletin boards with comments favorable to the Communist Party.

Last week, as the 20th anniversary of the military crackdown on 
Tiananmen approached, the government blocked a host of Internet 
services, including Twitter, Microsoft’s live.com, and Flickr, a photo- 
sharing site. Youtube has been inaccessible here since March.

This is not the first time that foreign companies have been enlisted in 
government efforts to police the Internet. Google already blacks out 
politically sensitive results yielded by its popular search engine, 
Microsoft allows censors to block content on its blog service and Yahoo 
was widely criticized for turning over information that was used to jail 
a journalist.

Even beyond ethical concerns, those who have tested the new software 
describe it as technically flawed. One American software engineer said 
it leads machines to frequently crash. Others worry that it could leave 
millions of computers vulnerable to hackers. So far, at least, there is 
no version for the Apple and Linux operating systems.

On Monday, Green Dam’s own website offered a hint of discontent over the 
filtering software. On the bulletin board section of the site, several 
users complained that pornographic images slipped through or that their 
computers had become painfully slow. “It seems pretty lousy so far,” 
read one posting. “It’s not very powerful, I can’t surf the Internet 
normally and it’s affecting the operation of other software.”

By Monday night, however, most of the comments had been deleted.

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