Chinese netizens are certainly having fun mocking the government's mandate for PC manufacurers to install the Green Dam-Youth Escort software. Danwei posted some great pictures of cartoon "green dam girls," greated in the style of Japanese porno manga. This one on the left (click to enlarge) is removing the underwear of "Windows XP Girl". Hecaitou has a lot more.
The Guardian, Associated Press, and even the China Daily are now quoting an unnamed Chinese official at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology who says that the installation of Green Dam-Youth Escort is "not compulsory." The China Daily reports:
"The PC makers only need to save the setup files of the program on the hard drives of the computers, or provide CD-ROMs containing the program with their PC packages," said an official of the department of software service under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, who did not want to be named.
PC users have the "final say" over installing the filter and recent reports of the government compelling them to use the software was "a misunderstanding", the official said.
"The government only provides the Green Dam-Youth Escort software for free."
It seems like there must have been some kind of policy tug-of-war going on these past few days. Late last week the Communist Party's Propaganda Department sent round an edict to the media instructing them to say nice things about Green Dam and stop being so critical. But Caijing and other media continued running critical articles, and then the People's daily website, Renminwang, launched a whole feature section on Saturday with full coverage of the Green Dam story - pro and con. Plus a reader opinion poll. Here's the screenshot I took Monday morning of the results, soon before the whole thing got taken down (click to enlarge):
At the time the screenshot was taken, more than 5 million readers had voted. 16 percent (nearly 880 thousand) supported Green Dam, while 74 percent (more than 4 million) voted against it.
On the left is a screenshot of the front page of the feature section, provocatively titled: "Have you been 'Green Dam-Youth Escort-ed' today?" (Click to enlarge.) Interestingly, the accompanying discussion forum has not been deleted - and it's full of comments criticizing or mocking Green Dam. Even though the main section has been taken offline, Chinese media insiders say the fact that the critical analysis and online poll managed to appear at all on the People’s Daily website is proof of strong internal government disagreement over how to respond to this public relations fiasco.
Despite today's reports about an apparent climbdown, however, I got an email from one person in the industry who said his company has yet to hear anything different from the original directive in his company's discussions with the government. So the game may not be completely over, and some in the industry are concerned about the implications of even providing an accompanying disc, knowing the security and IP issues in addition to the free speech implications.
Meanwhile the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has ordered Green Dam's maker, Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co. to urgently patch their now well-documented security flaws. That could take a while if it’s to be done right: the University of Michigan computer scientists who analyzed Green Dam last week warned that the problems are so serious that they can only be resolved with “extensive changes to the software and careful retesting.” Whether the government requires installation or just an accompanying disc, it’s unclear whether it will still hold PC makers and importers to the original July 1st implementation deadline. It also remains unclear whether the mandate will ultimately end up being enforced. If Jinhui fails to patch Green Dam’s leaks to government satisfaction in a timely manner, that could give the authorities solid reason to scrap the plan. Meanwhile, never a dull moment on the Chinese Internet. I look forward to the continued Chinese online humor... including this doozy that some reader managed to post for a short period of time also on the People's Daily site: