China demands new PCs carry spyware

Summary:There comes a time when despite the allure of the market, Western industry should band together and turn its back on China. A time when the computer and Internet industry realizes that the censorship-and-repression tax the government is intent on levying is too high a price to pay.

There comes a time when despite the allure of the market, Western industry should band together and turn its back on China. A time when the computer and Internet industry realizes that the censorship-and-repression tax the government is intent on levying is too high a price to pay.

Is this, at long last, that moment? Well, it's doubtful. But it should be.

Starting July 1, computers sold in China must include government-provided spyware that blocks pornography and political dissent from Chinese citizens' view, The New York Times reports, following up a Wall Street Journal report.

Called “Green Dam” — green being a foil to the yellow smut of pornography — the software is designed to filter out sexually explicit images and words, according to the company that designed it. Computer experts, however, warn that once installed, the software could be directed to block all manner of content or allow the government to monitor Internet use and collect personal information.

PC makers are said to be irritated with the new rules but presumably not enough to buck the government. The major irritation seems to be that July 1 isn't enough time to add the software to massive production lines.

Beyond the nettlesome issue of abetting government censorship, they said six weeks was not enough time to shift production on such a large scale. “Many of us are going to take it in the neck with this mandate,” said one executive. “It has put people into five-alarm mode.”

Still executives met with the U.S. Embassy to express displeasure. If they're serious, though, they need to do this, says Rebecca McKinnon:

  • Provide the software on disk rather than pre-installed.
  • Include clear information to the user about what the software does, the nature and range of content it filters, how the user's personal information is collected and transmitted, where it is stored and who has access to it.
  • Explain what the software does differently from existing parental controls already included in the operating system.
  • Include further information about any further vulnerabilities the software contains which could open the user's computer to attack or snooping.
  • Provide clear instructions on how to deactivate or uninstall the software along with the installation guidelines.

It's pretty clear that's not how China wants this to go down. This little anecdote from the Times says it all.

On Monday, Green Dam’s own website offered a hint of discontent over the filtering software. On the bulletin board section of the site, several users complained that pornographic images slipped through or that their computers had become painfully slow. “It seems pretty lousy so far,” read one posting. “It’s not very powerful, I can’t surf the Internet normally and it’s affecting the operation of other software.”

By Monday night, however, most of the comments had been deleted.

Topics: CXO, Browser, China, Government, Government : US, Hardware, IT Employment, Malware, Security, Software

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