BEIJING — China's announcement Monday that all computers sold in the country must include filtering software is drawing protests from various quarters worldwide.
From Chinese "'Netcitizens" to computer-makers to free speech organizations, the move is seen as more than a means to protect children from pornography and other content deemed "vulgar," as the government claims.
As reported by AVN.com, manufacturers have until July 1 to offer machines preinstalled with special filter software, or ship PCs that include a disc that can be installed by users.
Announced by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the software in question, "Green Dam-Youth Escort," was developed by the Jinhui Computer System Engineering in conjunction with the Chinese military and state security, raising suspicion over its true use.
The New York Times reports U.S. computer firms have said the preinstall requirements cannot be met in time and have already noted that it could hamper operating systems and also cause complete crashes.
Singapore-based senior researcher Bryan Ma of industry analysts IDC told Time Magazine the government demand "totally blindsided the industry," adding, "The biggest challenge right now is that we don't have any details,"
Many also wonder if the software could actually be government-sanctioned spyware, not the child-protection tool it claims to be, created to block more than porn, but also political and socially progressive material from view. China's government has waved away such accusations.
"If you have children or are expecting a child you could understand the concerns of parents over unhealthy online content,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang during a Tuesday press conference.
China launched a massive Internet porn purge this year, blocking and then shutting down thousands of sites. But the government has also cut users off from content regarding human rights, a free Tibet and other concerns that run counter to its agenda.
Caijing magazine asked in an online editorial: "How do you prevent this from becoming a backdoor for the misuse of power? Up until now, officials have not answered these questions. The government can urge parents to take responsibility through a variety of mechanisms, but it can’t become an omnipotent Big Parent.”
Green Dam reportedly employs image recognition technology and text filtering to block material. But it's already failed in tests with the simplest of words that could have multiple meanings image-wise, such as "balls," shutting out all such images. On the other hands, when the software was installed in school computers, a teacher was able to view photos of naked African women, but not pigs.
Chinese bloggers have called the government "a bully," charging that even if the concern is for protecting children, the allegedly faulty software is not a solution.
On Tianya.com, one post called the move "flat-out corruption" while another said, "If a government keeps dumbing-down its people like this, how can it ever be respected by the rest of the world?" and another wrote Chinese society is "moving backwards."
According to Time, a survey conducted on news portal ifeng.com found nearly 76 percent thought the software would invade user privacy while 62 percent did not believe it would prevent teenagers from viewing "improper" content. Also, 90 percent are not willing to pay an extra fee for the designated software, and 73 percent said they would attempt to uninstall the software in any new computer they might purchase.
In 2003, China attempted to require all makes of Wi-Fi networking products to adopt its standard for encryption rather than already-existing global parameters. The move brought a roar of protests and then saw the intervention of Secretary of State Colin Powell, which ended the demand.
"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," wrote Rebecca Mackinnon, assistant professor of journalism at Hong Kong University on her blog. .
Mackinnon specializes in Internet issues and noted China has attempted to control encryption and video sites, and even wanted all bloggers to register with the government through their national IDs cards.
"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 wrote.
Meanwhile, in a statement issued Tuesday, a U.S. trade coalition said: “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."
Among the groups backing the statement were the Software & Information Industry Association and the Information Technology Industry Council, whose membership includes Dell, Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo.
Microsoft told news service AFP "the availability of appropriate parental control tools is an important societal consideration for industry and governments around the world" but added, "at the same time, Microsoft is committed to helping advance the free flow of information and encouraging transparency, deliberation and restraint with respect to Internet governance."
As of Wednesday U.S. industry executives were said to already be in talks with China, seeking to relax the mandate and its deadline, though the option to just include the disc is still problematic as manufacturers insist the Green Dam software as it exists now will severely impact operating systems and programs.