Although, earlier this year, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology mandated that the vaguely named “Green Dam Youth Escort” web filtering software be bundled with all new PCs, including the imported ones, it later postponed the July 1 deadline before eventually scrapping its edict last month.
However, it is still mandatory for those administrating public use computers to have Green Dam Youth Escort installed on such machines. But one unnamed Chinese high school is said to have flouted the government’s order by deleting the software from its computers. It is not often that China offers obeisance to outside pressure.
Despite recently announced delays in China’s requirement to include Green Dam anti-pornography software on new PCs, the initiative is far from dead. PC makers who unanimously decried the hasty July 1st deadline managed to buy themselves an extension, but are still being told they to comply with the new requirements. The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology re-affirmed its commitment to Green Dam Youth Escort on Thursday, and claims that it sees the software as being an important tool for protecting young people from pornography and violence on the internet. To further reinforce its commitment to total penetration, software publisher Jinhui has been told to write a Mac OSX version of the software, and it is currently in beta testing.
Critics of the Green Dam filtering software continue to question the motivation behind the initiative, and have accused the Ministry of using the software to further political repression. This may be a valid concern when you consider that the Ministry in charge of Green Dam’s implantation is also responsible for suppressing illegal political activity. The situation for the Chinese gets even worse when you consider that several industry tests have shown multiple security vulnerabilities in the filtering software, and it even appears to have a high occurrence of false positives in the filtering algorithm. The vulnerabilities are considered so serious in fact, that Sony is including a disclaimer with all new PCs.
Will Linux be the only safe haven for the Chinese?
The Chinese Health Ministry has been waging a very public war against pornography lately, and although they appeared to be softening their approach, new developments on Thursday have left Google scrambling. In what some people are calling “a rigged demo”, a CCTV state-owned television monopoly broadcast an interview demonstrating the dangers of the Google Suggested Search feature which attempts to auto complete simple search terms with popular related queries. At one point during the interview, when the host typed the word “son” into Google, a suggested search was returned stating, “abnormal relationship between son and mother”.
Google has formally commented on the matter, and has explained that the suggested search feature is based on popularity. In their defense, Google claims that nobody had entered this phrase for several months, but the term suddenly became popular in Beijing in the days leading up to the show. Though this is hardly conclusive evidence of a conspiracy, it certainly falls into the category of “suspicious” if true.Regardless, Google claims to be working on a new system that would help it remove all traces of pornography from its Chinese database, but describes it as “a major engineering effort”. "Google has been working to remove pornography from our search results in China, in accordance with our operating license there," the company said.
Google already filters a significant amount of political content from its search results, and critics fear that further censorship will only complicate the efforts of rights activists. It is also worth noting that the government agency charged with cracking down on pornography, is also responsible for suppressing illegal political activity. American officials have been critical of knee jerk restrictions on companies trying to comply with Chinas increasing demand for pornography censorship, and I’m sure we will hear more on this issue in the coming months.
What do you think of the ongoing developments in China?
What do Solid Oak Software's CyberSitter and China's Green Dam Youth Escort Internet filtering programs have in common? According to the BBC, the answer is CyberSitter code. The BBC reports that both Solid Oak's Brian Milburn and a report from the University of Michigan conclude that the developer of Green Dam Youth Escort, Computer System Engineering Inc, have incorporated code from CyberSitter into Green Dam - without a license.
According to the China Daily, Solid Oak is sending "cease and desist" letters to HP and Dell to stop shipping computers bundled with Green Dam, and may seek legal action against the developers. The legal-technical drama is being played out against the background of China's requirement that all new systems sold as of July 1 include Green Dam, as we reported last week.
What have the developers of Green Dam done that might help fend off legal action and improve their product's security? Join us after the jump.
The Chinese government is requiring all PC makers selling into the China market to bundle Green Dam Youth Escort web filtering software as of July 1, as we reported earlier this week. This software, already widely used in China's schools and elsewhere, has plenty of flaws, BBC News reports:
Unencrypted connections between client PCs and the company's servers, which could lead to information theft or the PCs being turned into botnet nodes for malware attacks
Filtering only Internet Explorer browsers, not Firefox
Support only for Microsoft Windows
Inaccurate web site blocking (pictures of pigs blocked, but not pictures of African women)
Potential privacy risks for users because the software logs all web pages the user attemps to access
Right now, it seems as if Green Dam Youth Escort is incapable of meeting its specified goals of "healthy development of the internet" and "effectively manag[ing] harmful material for the public and prevent it from being spread," while providing a terrific opportunity for malware providers. Have you encountered similar problems with web filtering software? Join us after the jump to sound off.