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China To Require Filtering Software On PCs

Starting July 1, PC makers will have to install pornography-blocking app Green Dam Youth Escort on all computers sold in China.

China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has ordered that all personal computers, whether made in China or imported from abroad, must include specific software to filter inappropriate information.

Rebecca MacKinnon, assistant professor at the Journalism & Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong, has posted a copy of the Chinese government order on her Web site.

According to her translation, Web filtering software called Green Dam Youth Escort must be installed on all PCs sold in China as of July 1. The software also must be included on a hard-drive partition or on a CD included with the computer to allow for reinstallation.

PC makers also are required to provide the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology with monthly sales figures, installation figures, and comments for the remainder of the year. In 2010, reports will be required annually, by the end of February, rather than monthly.

The U.S. Department of State didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past, technology companies have asked the U.S. government to treat speech restrictions as a restraint on trade.

The Green Dam Youth Escort software Web site characterizes the program as a tool to protect children. Noting that the impact of the Internet on children is increasing, the site states that the spread of unhealthy information online has seriously harmed the physical and mental health of children.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Bryan Zhang, founder of Jinhui Computer System Engineering, which helped develop the Green Dam Youth Escort software, insists that the software will only block pornographic content. It remains to be seen how the software will treat sensitive political content, something the Chinese government has blocked before and continues to block using other means.

The Green Dam Youth Escort software has been designed to receive frequently updated content-blocking lists in a manner similar to virus-blocking software.

In the United States, efforts to limit online information on the grounds of protecting children, such as the Child Online Protection Act, have been declared unconstitutional by the courts. Nevertheless, Internet filtering and objections to it continue to be debated. As MacKinnon observes on her blog, the ACLU is suing two school districts in Tennessee for using Web filtering software to deny students access to information about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.

Some companies have been tailoring their products to accommodate content requirements in China. Microsoft, for example, chose to limit the availability of sexual content in its new Bing search engine for many Muslim countries and for China.

In 2006, Philip Stark, a professor of statistics at the University of California, submitted his analysis of Internet content filtering on behalf of the federal government's effort to sustain COPA. He found that just over 1% of Web pages at the time were sexually explicit and that content filtering software missed between 8.8% and 60.2% of such pages while blocking between 0.4% and 23.6% of "clean" Web pages. The government cited Stark's analysis as proof that content regulation is necessary because filtering technology doesn't work well enough.


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