Thursday, June 25, 2009

New China Decree mandates PCs with "Green Dam-Youth Escort" software

by M. Ulric Killion   

The Public Debate and Responses 

As of July 1, 2009, according to a new decree, all computers sold in China will be shipped with "Green Dam-Youth Escort" software, which blocks access to contraband websites. China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology says the new decree intends to protect young people from "harmful" content such as pornography.

However, Beijing's history of censoring a broad range of web content has raised concern among foreign industry officials and in Washington that the new effort could increase government control over Chinese cyberspace.

It is noteworthy that earlier in June, Microsoft's Bing,, Hotmail, and other Internet services were blocked, though temporarily, for customers in China (Lefkow, 2009; Blanchard and Hornby, 2009). The reason cited for the Internet services being blocked by most China observers was the 20th Anniversary of Tiananmen and the June 4th suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Beijing.

The response from Microsoft to the earlier June blocking of Internet services follows. According to Microsoft director of public affairs Kevin Kutz, "We are reaching out to the government to understand this decision and find a way to move forward." Further Kutz said, "Microsoft is committed to helping advance the free flow of information, and is committed to encouraging transparency, due process and rule of law when it comes to Internet governance" (Lefkow, 2009; Blanchard and Hornby, 2009).

Conversely, other groups such as Reporters Without Borders (RWB) and China's foreign correspondents' association did, of course, more harshly criticize the blocking of Internet services. Moreover, t
he US government has even suggested that China by requiring PC makers by mandate, or decree, to install this variety of Internet filtering on new PCs may violate China's trade commitments.
Blocking software: Customers use computers at an internet cafe in Shanghai (Bloomberg).

The Decree and its Enforceability 

The notice, The Wall Street Journal reports, could also force PC manufacturers to choose between refusing a government order in a major market or opening themselves to charges of abetting censorship (Eisenman, 2009). 

In addition, China's history of censoring a broad range of web content is raising concerns among some foreign industry officials. The US government perceives potential problem of the new decree as significantly increasing government control over Internet access in Mainland China. "Industry executives also warn that the software could cause PCs in China to malfunction, and could make them more vulnerable to hacking (WSJ, 2009).  

The Wall Street Journal (Chao, PC firms face China decree) reports: "We are studying the new rule to assess its impact," said Susan Stevenson, spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Beijing. "We would view any attempt to restrict the free flow of information with great concern and as incompatible with China's aspirations to build a modern, information-based economy and society." . . . The software's Chinese name is "Green Dam-Youth Escort". The word "green" in Chinese is used to describe web-surfing free from pornography and other illicit content. 

Further, the Wall Street Journal (Chao, PC firms face China decree) reported that "the rule was outlined in a notice that was issued by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on May 19 but that hasn't yet been reported. The notice, a copy of which was seen by The Wall Street Journal, says PC makers must ship PCs to be sold in China as of July 1 with the Green Dam software "preloaded".  

The notice says the software must either be preinstalled on the hard drive or enclosed on a compact disc. It says PC producers will be required to report to the government how many PCs they have shipped with the software.

It is unclear how the Chinese government might enforce the new rule. Although the notice doesn't mention any punitive action, fear of consequences if PC makers don't comply could be enough to ensure their compliance" (Chao, PC firms face China decree). 

The Chinese Netizen Community 

The greater issue of the new decree, more importantly, is that it will ultimately affect Internet use in the mainland, which, according to the latest statistics from China's Information Technology Industry, as of the first quarter of 2009, is about 316 million Internet users in China (Xinhua, 2009). The consequences of the new decree have yet to unfold, especially as concerns the Chinese netizen community and how wide or narrow the girth, or reach, of the new decree in censoring Internet services.

As Bryan Zhang, founder of Jinhui, observed, "Some computers sold in China already come with parental-control software, but it isn't government-mandated" (Choa, China Squeezes PC Makers, 2009). However, the "Green Dam-Youth Escort" software, as Zhang explained, would problematically allow the blocking of other types of content, as well as the collection of private user data (Choa, China Squeezes PC Makers).


Chris Lefkow, China blocks websites ahead of Tiananmen anniversary, June 2, 2009, AFP.
Ben Blanchard and Lucy Hornby, China ups security ahead of Tiananmen anniversary, June 2, 2009. Reuters.
Joshua Eisenman, Editor, China Reform Monitor No. 767, June 24, 2009.
Loretta Chao, PC firms face China decree, Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2009.
Loretta Chao, China Squeezes PC Makers, Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2009.
"网络民意"在争议声中推进中国公民权利保障, 新华网, 2009年06月24日 ["Web people" in the controversy to promote the protection of the rights of Chinese citizens, Xinhua, June 24, 2009].

 Copyright © Protected - All Rights Reserved M. Ulric Killion, 2009.

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