Some Chinese geeks have been playing with the new government-mandated Green Dam censorship software over the past couple days. People are reporting their findings on Twitter and on blogs. Eisen blog posted the screenshot above, taken after the software blocked his efforts to visit a porn site on Internet Explorer. He points out, however, that he had no problem accessing the site when using Firefox, concluding that the tool might prevent the average kid from accessing porn but not the determined tech-savvy kid. Interestingly, @shizhao reported that the software transmits reports to Jinhui Corp. when the user tries to access dodgy websites. Not clear if that only applies when IE is used, as with the filtering.
Roland Soong of EastSouthWestNorth has translated feedback posted on the software manufacturer's user forum (since closed) by teachers and parents who've been using Green Dam. Here are three of the many comments:
Let me say something here. We were forced 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 like 4399, but no more ... many news reports have certain normal words but they are banned ... for example, when <Network News> reports that there is a campaign against pornographic websites, the software bans the story because of the term "pornographic websites." 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 so we can't access them anymore. Why doesn't the state just ban those advertisements directly? I want to curse someone out ...
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 spend 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.
After testing, I found out that the software can record Internet usage data as well as being spyware with the ability to obtain periodic screen captures. When schools are compelled to install this software, there is the serious worry of computer security about the private information of teachers and students. There is no guarantee that personal information is not being secretly collected. It is a huge problem when teachers feel unsafe when they use the computers.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman may have defended Green Dam, but it's his job to defend everything any part of the Chinese government does unconditionally. Many others in China clearly don't agree with him and are publicly saying so. Even the state-approved Caijing magazine has a long critique of the government's Green Dam mandate, arguing that decisions and control over censorship to protect children should be left in the hands of parents and teachers - that centralized censorship even when well-intentioned "throws the baby out with the bathwater." I hope somebody translates the whole thing. It concludes: "The government can use all kinds of mechanisms to guide and urge parents to take responsibility [for their children], but it not become the omnipotent "great parent.""
As the week progresses I'm putting more of my money on the likelihood that the Green Dam filtering software edict will not get implemented, or efforts at enforcement will fade quickly. One thing Western observers need to remember is that China has a long history of edicts targeted at the tech, telecoms, and media sectors going un-enforced, quietly retracted, or morphed in practice into something very different. There was the failed attempt to ban encryption software back in 2000. There were multiple failed attempts to force Reuters, Bloomberg, Dow Jones, etc. to sell all their news exclusively through Xinhua. Both were defeated by strong lobbying by international industry groups. The effort to impose a real-name registration requirement on Chinese Internet companies died after fierce opposition from Chinese industry. And last year's new requirement that online video websites in China must have majority state ownership appears to have gone ignored. Etc.