China Waves Big Stick – Will Google et al Cower?

China’s bid to clamp down on online porn has sparked a flurry of activity.

PC makers are scrambling to install Green Dam Youth Escort, an Internet filtering software application, on every desktop and laptop sold in the country by the July 1 deadline issued by the nation’s government.

However, they’re not taking things lying down — they are fighting a rearguard battle with the help of trade groups and the U.S. government.

Meanwhile, China has reportedly blocked access to Google in some parts of the country, and developers of the Green Dam software have complained about receiving death threats.

PC Makers and Green Dam

China is important to PC makers both as a manufacturing center and as a market for product sales.

The country’s manufacturing facilities turn out a large portion of all computers and components. In terms of sales, China will be huge; research company IDC projects that PC sales to China will exceed 40 million units by the end of this year. Such a large market presence makes the country’s voice difficult for technology companies in the U.S. and elsewhere to ignore.

“We’ve seen that in order to continue to bring in the revenue in a very tight market, the PC makers and search engine people have caved in to China’s demands,” Laura DiDio, principal at ITIC, told the E-Commerce Times.

“There may be talk of censorship, but throughout history, when you pit money against principles, money wins out nine times out of 10,” she remarked.

Fighting Back

However, PC vendors are not entirely powerless.

“They have plants in China that are very lucrative for Chinese corporations and bring revenues to Chinese municipalities, so there are ways to do things behind the scenes,” DiDio said. “It’s going to be a very delicate negotiation process, and you need a very skilled negotiator.”

Already, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and U.S. Trade Representative Ronald Kirk have called on China to revoke its edict on Green Dam.

In a joint letter to their counterparts in China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and Ministry of Commerce, they raised questions about regulatory transparency and concerns about compliance with World Trade Organization rules.

HP, the largest computer seller in the world, has turned to the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC), an association of leading U.S. providers of information technology products and services, for help.

“HP is working closely with ITIC to seek additional information, clarify open questions, and monitor developments on this matter,” Pamela Bonney, the vendor’s spokesperson, told the E-Commerce Times.

Dell, another major U.S. vendor affected by Green Dam, had not responded to requests for comment by press time.

Blocking Google

Meanwhile, reports have surfaced that access to Google has been blocked in parts of China.

Officials in Beijing had earlier threatened to cut Google off for facilitating access to pornography.

“We understand that many users could not access Google.com in China, along with linked services, such as Google Docs and Gmail, during the last 24 hours,” Google spokesperson Scott Rubin told the E-Commerce Times. “Service has now been restored to many people affected. Additionally, we have also heard that users were unable to access Google.cn for a short period on Wednesday evening.”

Death Cab for Green Dam

Some of Green Dam’s detractors may be adopting less diplomatic tactics to scuttle the software.

Staff of the Jinhui Computer System Engineering Company, which won the bid to develop the Green Dam-Youth Escort last year, have been receiving death threats, according to Xinhua, China’s government-run press agency.

Company general manager Zhang Chenmin said he and other staff members have received more than 1,000 harassing calls and death threats this month. Some reportedly came from overseas.

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