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China Wobbles on Green Dam

The government of China says it will put off the July 1 deadline for mandatory installation of the controversial Green Dam Youth Escort Internet filtering software on new PCs, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.

Originally, the country’s government had said it would require vendors to include Green Dam, a program used to block Internet pornography and other objectionable material, with all computers sold in China.

At least one computer manufacturer, Sony, is reported to have already complied with the edict, although others are said to be waiting for a definitive decision from Beijing before doing anything.

All Up in the Air

The mandatory installation will be delayed, according to Xinhua, but the news agency did not say when that delay might end.

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) reportedly attributed the delay to requests from computer manufacturers, some of whom protested they were not given enough notice for such a massive project.

The MIIT will continue providing free downloads of the software and have it installed in schools and Internet cafes after July 1, according to the Xinhua story.

“I’m not surprised that China’s holding off its edict,” Guobin Yang, associate professor of Asian/Middle Eastern Cultures & Sociology at Columbia University, told the E-Commerce Times. “The main reason is the surprisingly high level of opposition people expressed towards this new software.”

It was never really clear whether or not Beijing would enforce the edict, according to Dan Harris, a partner in international law firm Harris & Moure and an expert on China.

“What they’re doing is floating an idea and seeing what the reaction is,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “In the last five years, there probably have been thousands of laws China said it’s going to enact and hasn’t. Or it has enacted them but hasn’t implemented them.”

Openness and Dissent

From the beginning, the Green Dam edict raised hackles, and public debate about the software has been relatively open.

A June 10 Xinhua story said that the MIIT announcement of the edict, made the previous day, had met opposition. One opponent the agency quoted was Ma Guangyuan, with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Other opponents quoted in the story questioned the lack of public debate on Green Dam as well as the apparent lack of an open bidding process for the creation of the application.

Xinhua carried several other such stories on the Green Dam ruling. It also included information that University of Michigan researchers found the software to be flawed in terms of security.

Separately, Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, who helped design the landmark “Bird’s Nest” stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, was widely reported to have called for a boycott of the Web on July 1.

Anger over the edict boiled over to Jinhui Computer System Engineering, which developed the software package. The company said its staff had received more than 1,000 threats from callers both within China and abroad.

The Computer Vendors’ Story

News of the Green Dam requirement sent many computer vendors scrambling. Some approached their governments or trade associations such as the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC), an association of leading U.S. providers of information technology products and services, for help.

However, Sony is reported to have begun shipping one of its Vaio laptops with Green Dam pre-installed.

HP, which last week told the E-Commerce Times that it’s working with ITIC over the issue of the Green Dam edict, declined to comment on the latest developments.

Government Action

“We understand that the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is delaying the implementation of the Green Dam software requirement. The United States welcomes the opportunity to engage with the relevant Chinese authorities on our concerns regarding the software,” said Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and Commerce officials on background in a statement, Kevin Griffis, director of public affairs at DoC, told the E-Commerce Times.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk sent a joint letter to their MIIT counterparts earlier this month urging Beijing to revoke the edict.

The EU has also objected to the Green Dam ruling. It reportedly told China the edict should be scrapped.

Bad Boys Not Wanted

Larger social issues motivated the Chinese government’s decision to issue the Green Dam edict, Columbia University’s Yang said.

“They’re concerned with broader social problems, especially an increasingly outspoken citizenry full of grievances about corruption, social injustice and other such issues,” he explained.

“Because the Internet has become such a powerful channel for expressing dissent, damming it is like sealing the mouth,” he said.

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