China’s Green Dam: filter SW required on each new PC
A recent directive by the Chinese government requires the installation of a specific filtering software product, Green Dam, with the publicly stated intent of protecting children from harmful Internet content.
But what buyers don’t know: the filtering options also include blocking of political and religious content normally associated with the Great Firewall of China, China’s national-level filtering system. If implemented as proposed, the effect would be to increase the reach of Internet censorship to the edges of the network, adding a new and powerful control mechanism to the existing filtering system.
The Open Net Initiative by the Universities of Harvard, Toronto, Cambridge and Oxford did an intensive review on this blocking software, these are the findings:
Green Dam exerts unprecedented control over users’ computing experience
It blocks access to a wide range of web sites based on keywords and image processing, including porn, gaming, gay content, religious sites and political themes, it actively monitors individual computer behavior, such that a wide range of programs including word processing and email can be suddenly terminated if content algorithm detects inappropriate speech.
The functionality of Green Dam goes far beyond that which is needed to protect children online and subjects users to security risks
Log files are currently recorded locally on the machine, including events and keywords that trigger filtering. The auto-update feature can used to change the scope and targeting of filtering without any notification to users.
The effective level of parental control over the software is poor
A combination of poor implementation and opaque design makes it very difficult for even expert users to understand what the system is doing by default, let alone understand the impact and scope of auto-updates and configuration changes. These factors severely erode any arguments over parental choice.
Mandating the use of a specific software product is a questionable policy decision
Introducing a product standard by mandating the use of a particular software product made by a specific company for individual use at a national level is unprecedented. A product mandate provides a strong measure of central control at the cost of consumer choice, security, and product quality, with implications for personal computer performance. The effects of this product are magnified by the fact that the product and company in question are reported to have little or no experience in the development, testing, deployment, or support of a very widely used software product.
There is broad support around the world for policies that help parents to limit the exposure of their children to harmful materials online. This support varies widely, however, in relation to the share of responsibility and choice between governments, technology companies and parents. Many favor leaving control solely in the hands of parents, while others support government policies that mandate large-scale filtering. This legitimate debate has been superseded in China by a government mandate for new computers to be shipped with filtering software that is overly broad and excessively intrusive. Requiring the installation of a specific product provides no apparent benefits for protecting children, suggesting that it might be intended to extend the regulatory reach of government authorities into personal computers.
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