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New mandatory content filtering software for China PCs

15 June, 2009
By Allison Orr

In May the Chinese government issued a directive requiring the installation of specific filtering software called Green Dam Youth Escort on all personal computers sold in the mainland of the People’s Republic of China and pre-installed on any computers imported from overseas.  The directive will take effect on 1 July 2009.  From this date, no computers will be sold in the PRC without this software installed, and PC manufacturers will be required to provide monthly reports to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on sales figures and the number of copies of the software installed.

The software works by automatically downloading the latest updates of a list of prohibited sites from an online database.  The stated aim is to protect children from harmful content, particularly pornography.   According to the directive, the software will “build a healthy and harmonious online environment that does not poison young people’s minds”.

Censorship Concerns

Critics fear that the new software could be used by the government to enhance its Internet censorship system, known colloquially as the Great Firewall of China. 

The OpenNet Initiative has released a new research bulletin that examines the Green Dam software.  Their testing found that, operating under its default settings, the software is highly intrusive.  It blocks access to a wide range of websites based on keywords and image processing, including content with religious and political themes.  In addition, the software actively monitors individual computer behavior so that programs such as email and word processing can be suddenly terminated if content algorithms detect inappropriate speech.  

The research bulletin finds that:
"If implemented as proposed, the effect would be to increase the reach of Internet censorship to the edges of the network, adding a new and powerful control mechanism to the existing filtering system.”

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