It has been widely reported recently that the Chinese government ordered that every computer sold in China after 1 July be equipped with a preinstalled Internet filtering software called Green Dam – Youth Escort, officially intended for blocking access to pornography. The decision has been attacked for a variety of reasons: that it will serve political control, that it is technologically faulty and puts computers at risk, that it creates potential problems for operational systems, and that such a huge contract has been awarded without a tender. (A recent New York Times article is here.)
What I find interesting is the breadth and publicity of opposition to the plan even in very mainstream media in China. According to the NYT article — China Daily, which is normally as bland as it gets, “reported Monday that surveys done by four of China’s most popular Web portals showed that four in five Internet users would not use the software or would have it uninstalled.” The article also referred to accusations by a Silicon Valley company that Green Dam stole their “blacklist” of porn sites. I would have expected for such accusations to go unreported or be dismissed as preposterous, but the response of an executive from Jinhui Computer System Engineering, which helped design Green Dam, was unusually meek:
“I cannot deny that the two filters’ databases of blacklisted URL addresses might share similarities,” Mr. Zhang said in China Daily. “After all, they are all well-known international pornographic Web sites that all porn filters are meant to block. But we didn’t steal their programming code.”
None of this necessarily suggests that Chinese Internet users are becoming more interested in accessing politically subversive content, but it does seem that — for reasons that do not have to be political — they are generally annoyed and distrustful about the idea to saddle them with a government-mandated filtering software. This is not so trivial, considering that a number of surveys have indicated a high degree of support for government controls on Internet content.