Backing off web censorship

SUBHEAD: China postpones web-filtering software amid protests.

By Mark Lee on 30 June 2009 in Bloomberg News -

Image above: Chinese using computers to access the internet. From

[Editor's Note: Only computers using Microsoft Windows operating system are targeted. Macintosh OSX and Linux systems are not currently affected by Green Dam Youth Escort software.]

China postponed tomorrow’s deadline for personal-computer makers to include a state-backed anti- pornography software on new PCs after U.S. officials and business groups urged it to scrap the rule.

The government is delaying mandatory installation of the Green Dam Youth Escort software after PC makers demanded more time, the Beijing-based Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in a statement on its Web site today.

Business groups representing U.S. technology companies including Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc. and Microsoft Corp. told Premier Wen Jiabao last week that Green Dam may undermine computer security. The software, which the Chinese government said is designed to block pornographic sites, also limits access to political content, tightening censorship of the world’s biggest Web market by users, university researchers said.

“The worry is it could compromise the user experience, if it really does create an unstable system, and raise concerns about security,” Bryan Ma, vice-president at research company IDC in Singapore, said before the announcement. “There will be a few hiccups along the way as PC vendors struggle to adjust their logistics and production processes.”

The ministry is soliciting opinions to improve the pre- installation plan, and didn’t say if it had set a new deadline. The ministry will keep providing a free version of the software and install it in PCs in schools and Internet cafes.

‘Barrier to Trade’

The Information Technology Industry Council, whose members include Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Microsoft, was among 22 industry groups in North America, Europe and Japan that signed a letter to Wen urging the government to review the software requirement, citing concerns on freedom of information and computer performance.

China should revoke its mandate for the software, which poses a “possible barrier to trade,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said June 24. Kirk and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a joint letter to Chinese officials last week the software adoption may violate World Trade Organization rules.

The Green Dam program blocks anti-government Web sites, in addition to pornographic material, and will impair computer performance by making machines more prone to security breaches, according to a June 11 report by researchers at the University of Michigan.

Largest Web Market

Government control of the Internet will be increased through the implementation of Green Dam, a “substandard product” developed by companies with little experience in such software, according to a June 12 report by OpenNet Initiative, which includes researchers at the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and University of Toronto.

The industry ministry said in its statement today that the software is for the public good and doesn’t infringe on trade, technology or privacy issues and complies with WTO regulations. The program doesn’t obstruct the free flow of information, it said.

China, which passed the U.S. last year as the world’s biggest Internet market, had 316 million Web users at the end of March, the state-owned Xinhua News Agency reported in April, citing Xi Guohua, vice minister of industry and information technology.

Lenovo Group Ltd. and Acer Inc. are among vendors which have agreed to ship the software. Palo Alto, California-based Hewlett-Packard and Dell, the world’s two biggest PC makers, have said they are reviewing the requirement.

“We’ll continue to advise customers worldwide about widely available Web-filtering software that has been thoroughly tested and we know performs well on Dell computers,” Round Rock, Texas-based Dell said in an e-mailed statement today.

Hewlett-Packard said in an e-mail it is working with the ITI trade group “to seek additional information, clarify open questions and monitor developments on this matter.”

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