Chinese information activists have been testing and collecting information about the government sponsored filter software, “Green Dam Youth Escort” via blog posts, twitter (search #greendam) and collaborative platforms since the WSJ's news about Beijing government required PC makers to install filter software for all the PCs shipped to China from July 1 2009 onward popped up. Some of them collectively put together a technical analysis of the software at google document and the result shows that the filter is full of flaws:
Collaborative Testing: a leaking dam
Current versions only support Windows; effective only when used in conjunction with Internet Explorer or Google Chrome, it has no effect when used with Firefox. The harmful information screened by the software includes politically-related harmful information, and the software relies on non-conventional methods to install, also ineffective within Firefox, closing the browser and adding the website address onto a banned list without confirmation. In Internet Explorer, the software's ability to classify clearly political content as “harmful information” is unreliable; for pornographic content, Green Dam is able to make relatively accurate assessments. When used with Firefox, however, the software shows no response.
Deep blue sea, upon testing the program, asked:
From the above test result, the software would occupy much computer resources and affect other programs, junior computer users will suffer.
ESWN translated some teacher's comments on the filter software from KDnet:
- I don't want to discuss whether the functionalities of Green Dam are good or bad, but it is a nuisance because of all the upgrading that goes on. We are a rural school, and we are using rural distance learning equipment (namely, Lenovo computers). If we install Green Dam, then we cannot do simultaneous network broadcasts or hard disk protection. Even if Green Dam guarantees safe Internet usage, how are we to maintain the software on our computers? Our computer instructor is going to sit around all day to watch Green Dam being upgraded one computer at a time. I am going to faint! Our supervisory leaders must not know how to use computers!
- Let me say something here. We were ordered to install the software. So I have to come to this website and curse. After we installed the software, many normal websites are banned. For example, it is normal for students to like games such as 4399, but not any more … many news reports have certain normal words but they are banned … for example, when
reports that there is a campaign against pornographic websites, the software bans the story because the term “pornographic websites” was used. Don't tell me how great the software technology is, because this is a piece of junk. When we need to look up some course-related material, there is always some provocative advertisements on the pages so we can't access them anymore. Why doesn't the state just ban those advertisements directly? I want to curse someone out …
As the keyword filter list includes words such as “touch” and “play” and the graphic detection is set to identify the proportion of skin color in a picture, funny results come out (also from ESWN's post):
- Can I determine the content of the text filtering? Today, a teacher posted an exam question which talks about “students playing touch-ball game.” The Word document was shut down. I spent a long time trying to determine the cause. This was really depressing. It will be a lot of work dealing these kinds of things in the future.
- How much flesh color does it take to make something “pornography”? I went on the Internet to check out some animal photos. A lovely little naked pig was sent onto the black list. Pitiful little pig! I was curious, so I looked up some photos of naked African women. Oh, they were not censored!
All LGBT content banned
Jzyg found out that all LGBT contents are banned :
Government budget and procedural justice
Given all its flaws and not so reliable filter result, the question followed is why the MIIT would spend more than 41 million yuans to pay the software company, Jinhui Technologies, one year license fee?
The company's software promotion picture (below) seems to celebrate the fact that “Green Dam” is uphold by the government and taxpayer's money (represented by the two hands):
Indeed, the project is in partnership with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance and State Council Information Department. However, many people questioned the lack of consultation and monitoring of such partnership. A commentary written by Wang Lin, a law professor, in ifeng pointed out that:
Moreover, we also need to check if the administrative promotion of this particular software has violated the current anti monopoly law.
Apart from technical and procedural concern, fulue highlighted the software's latent political implications:
Now it promotes via regulation a so-called pornography filter software. However, there isn't any independent third party to monitor the filtered content. And there isn't any discussion in the society about the policy. People would of course doubt if the Beijing's definition of pornography would include politics. It is likely that Beijing regards political pornography more damaging than bodily pornography.
Other related articles:
Rebecca MacKinnon – China's “Green Dam Youth Escort” software, Original government document ordering “Green Dam” software installation, Green Dam filtering software scorned by many Chinese.
Imagethief – Why I'm not in a tizzy over China's new Internet filtering software