Harmonization goes one step further, soon to be on all Chinese PCs

Well, it’s June 9–five days after that anniversary of events that “never happened”–and Internet access is limping back to normal here in the PRC. Twitter is unblocked and Flickr is… erm… flickering back to normal. YouTube and Blogspot are still out, but maybe those switches are in a different GFW building or something. I’ll be patient.

And just as the sun was beginning to shine on my online experience, I get this news:

China squeezes PC makers: Beijing is set to require Web filter that would censor “harmful” Internet sites.As of July 1, the Chinese Government is requiring all personal computers that are sold in the country to be shipped with Big Brother-like software that blocks access to certain Web sites.

The software’s Chinese name is “Green Dam-Youth Escort”. The word “green” in Chinese is used to describe Web surfing free from pornography and other illicit content. Green Dam would link PCs with a regularly updated database of banned sites and block access to those addresses, according to an official who tested the product for a government agency.

As a proud owner of three bought-in-China computers, frequenter of Chinese Web sites and having had to endure several China Telecom in-house “setups”, I’ve reached a level of stony stoicism toward the endless bits of “ware” this country is desperate to install on my computer under the guise of it being in my “best interests”.

However, this feels a step too far and reeks of deviousness. The official line for the software is to protect China’s youth against the evils of bare flesh, and yet everyone involved seems to be detracting attention from the fact that:

  1. It was developed by two software companies (Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co. and Beijing Dazheng Human Language Technology Academy Co.) with close ties (and past experience) working with the technology wing of the People’s Liberation Army.
  2. It doesn’t just block Web sites, but collects personally identifiable information (presumably about Web surfing habits and blocked Web site access attempts).
  3. If the only sites deemed sensitive to Chinese eyes were porn, I’d be able to get on WordPress.com, Youtube.com and Blogspot.com–as they all have clear policies against pornography.

Now, perhaps I’m worrying too much about this. Maybe it isn’t some Orwellian software invasion. According to the notice sent to PC manufacturers, the only requirement is that the software be shipped with new computers–it isn’t necessary for it to be preinstalled.

But then why is it being mandated at a government level? If it’s only required to be available to the end user, why would the Government invest money in its development? Why strain relations with the global tech sector by requring them on such short notice to include untested software with their product? Why feed the already negative international opinion about Chinese Internet censorship? Why do all of that just to, seemingly, give parents a government-endorsed “choice” of parental controls?

I wish I knew, but I really can’t see this announcement as anything but absolute buffoonery.

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