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China: A leaking dam?

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:

如果用户在使用过程中由于兼容问题出现了影响正常功能使用,或出现了网络隐私泄密,网络银行被盗,等等重大损失,请问工信部负责赔偿吗!

从上述测试来看,此软件对系统资源的占用是巨大的,会严重影响到一些用户的正常使用。会另一些不熟悉电脑网络设置的人群深受其害。

If the program clashes with other programs and affects the computer's other function, or if the network was hacked and user's private information, such as bank password got stolen, will the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) be ready to pay for the loss?

From the above test result, the software would occupy much computer resources and affect other programs, junior computer users will suffer.

Over blocking

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 :

一款绿色的流氓软件,把同性恋和色情,暴力等同,安装后默选项将会自动屏蔽所有包含有同性恋内容的网站,经测试国内知名的同性恋网站,如爱白、淡蓝、夫夫网等安装该软件后均会导致无法正常访问。测试还发现,只要网页中含有同性恋、gay、lesbian等与同性恋有关的词汇及经软件自动判别图片中“肉色 ”过多,和两个同性亲昵的动作出现后,网站即被屏蔽,无法正常显示。被屏蔽后,网站被自动列入软件黑名单内,该台电脑将无法再次打开此网站。

The software is a scumbag equalizes homosexuality with obscenity and violence. Once it is installed, it would filter away all websites with homosexual content. Upon testing, all famous LGBT websites, such as Aibai, idanian, aifufu and etc would be inaccessible. We also found out that if the websites contain keywords such as homosexual, gay, lesbian, the software would automatically identify the graphics as having too many “skin color” and same sex intimacy. The websites would then be blocked, compiled in the black list and banned from future visit.

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):

greendam

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:

工信部如此大手笔撒钱是否合乎政府财政支出的程序正义?从报道中可知,所谓供“全社会免费使用”,实则也是纳税人自己埋单,因为工信部等几部委使用中央财政资金4170万元人民币买断这套软件的一年服务。照工信部推行“绿坝-花季护航”的决心,应该不会只用一年就撤退,下一年度是否还要花费数以千万计的巨额资金购买软件服务?这样的大手笔,是否需要列入政府预算,接受人大代表的审议?

这种以行政强制来推行的软件捆绑,还需接受《反垄断法》的拷问。

It is questionable whether the spending of the MIIT follows the principle of procedural justice. According to the report, even though it appears that the software is free, the cost is actually shouldered by the taxpayers as the MIIT and other departments will spend 41.7 million yuan for the one year license. As MIIT is very determined to continue the effort, the contract won't be ended after one year. Are we going to spend the huge amount of tax money on this in the future? Should such expense be properly budgeted and approved by people representatives?

Moreover, we also need to check if the administrative promotion of this particular software has violated the current anti monopoly law.

Political concern

Apart from technical and procedural concern, fulue highlighted the software's latent political implications:

人们对政治层面的担忧就更多了,北京对互联网的管制是司马昭之心——路人皆知。除了秘密筑起臭名昭著的防火墙(GFW)外,更挂羊头卖狗肉,时不时借助一些运动进行整治。比如数月前刮起的那场声势浩大的“整顿互联网低俗之风”运动,运动过后中国的互联网依旧低俗,但是一些言辞尖锐的网站和博客却在运动中倒下。这就是北京理解的“低俗”!

而现在,又要强制推广一个所谓的过滤色情网站的软件,而所过滤的内容又不提交独立的第三方审核,影响这么广泛的政策出台前又不经过社会的广泛讨论。不免令人质疑,在北京看来色情是否也包括政治呢?或许在北京的眼里的,政治色情比肉体色情更可怕。

People are more worried about its political implications. Beijing's control over the Internet is so obvious that everyone knows about its intension. Apart from building up the notorious Great Fire Wall in secret, it frequently launches campaign to clean up the Internet. A most well known example is the anti-vulgarity campaign. After the campaign, the Internet is still full of vulgar content, but a number of critical websites and bloggers have disappeared. It reflects Beijing's understanding of “vulgarity”.

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

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  • Dr T.

    anything the west opposed is good for China. China just do opposite of the west tells her. It can’t go wrong.

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  • http://humanityinmyeyes.blogspot.com/ Ernest

    Honest to blog, it doesn’t matter if this filtering program works or not, the Chinese government’s existing censorship system, the Great Firewall of China, is unparalleled in terms of its logistics and technology.

    The impact of censorship is that China’s Y generation onwards are likely to be ignorant of the past and have an obscurely narrow world view. This is not in the Chinese people’s best interests at all.

  • Charles Liu

    Um, “preinstall” in Chinese actually means “bundle”. Take this 6/12 ZDNet article citing WSJ for example:

    http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=19688

    The end users were never required to install or run Green Dam. As to what Green Dam will filter, it is configuable by the user.

    How this is twisted into censorhip by NYT and a handfull of bloggers is beyond me – anti-sinoism perhaps?

    • Joe H

      Charles,

      Some “Anti-sinoism” clearly is going on here, at least somewhat, but I think it’s mostly that censorship is a hot button topic in the US and much of the West, so the media latches onto any opportunity to call out “censorship”, regardless of the facts. We are regularly hearing about Iran’s internet censorship now (often compared to China’s); and in the past, Austrialia’s.

      The bigger issue here seems to be that the government is using taxpayer money to rush out a piece of ass software and forcing schools to install it despite the claims of many that the software is a nuisance.

      • Joe H

        Actually, after giving it some more thought, I think that although the bundled software can be uninstalled, there is clearly some intent to control the political information that Chinese youth has access to because of how the government is forcing schools to use the software and because the software seems to be just as concerned with blocking sensitive politics as sensitive body parts. That’s why we’re seeing the fiery response from some.

        Whether you call it censorship or not, well, who cares? That’s just a way for writers to put a more negative spin on the story. But the outrage from Chinese youth and bloggers is likely due to the perceived intent of Beijing to control and shape the flow of information to future generations.

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