China Backtracks from PC Censorship

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on June 11, 2009

Not to say I told you so, but it seems China is indeed stepping back from its new censorship policy for computers. As TelecomAsia’s Robert Clark writes here, the Chinese government “has retreated on its controversial new web filtering plan.” I’m not sure it’s a full-fledged retreat yet, but there are certainly signs that the worldwide outcry is having an impact. For instance, Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, does seem a bit embarrassed about the whole thing. According to the government mouthpiece, China’s Ministry of Industry and IT “on Wednesday insisted that its notice to the PC makers and sellers does not mean the software’s installation to user’s operating system is mandatory, instead, the software package should be installed on either the hard drives or a compact disc with the computers.”

Even more interesting is Xinhua’s description of the criticism the new policy is receiving from inside China. I’m quoting at-length from Xinhua since the amount of space the critics receive from the agency seems a good sign that the government is moving to make this policy disappear:


However, Chinese scholars challenged the ministry’s policy despite of the government’s intention to keep minors away from porn and violent contents.

“I have the freedom to decide whether or not to install a locker to my home,” Dr. Ma Guangyuan with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said, “parent’s worry about their children’s porn-free environment is reasonable, but this is not an excuse for asking all new computers to be preloaded with the software because I can use it by myself.”

Lv Jingjian, a director with China Computer Federation, said there should be a public hearing if the government wants the public to use a uniformed software package.

A scholar named Ou Muhua also questioned that why the ministry did not publicize the public bidding for the porn-filtering software before the Tuesday’s announcement.

“The filtering function of the Green Dam and Youth Escort is not a new technology and many free anti-virus software could also provide similar services,” Ou said in a comment in Wednesday’s China Youth Daily.

For more on the criticism of the policy within China, check out Rebecca MacKinnon’s RConversation blog here.

As I mentioned in my earlier blog post on this story, there’s a typical pattern with off-the-wall new requirements from the Chinese bureaucracy: Outlandish policy gets announced, outcry begins, outlandish policy gets ignored. Rebecca sees the same thing happening now, too. “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,” she writes at RConversation. “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.”

I wonder now if the Chinese critics of the censorship software will dare to go further and start asking more questions. For instance, what sort of oversight was there in the decision-making process that led the ministry to require PC users have a certain type of software, a decision that would significantly boost sales for the company that makes that software?

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Reader Comments

NJobserver

June 11, 2009 12:55 PM

Could it be the inner circle in China realizes technical progress cannot continue without the cooperation and commitment of people with education who value questions and examination instead of parroting party propaganda? Perhaps they've reconciled themselves to the information age: once the cat is out of the bag you won't get it back in. Television, travel, and communications in all forms are doing to China what they did to the USSR- opening it up. It's not so easy to lie to the people when contradictory evidence exists in multiple forms from reliable sources.

Steven

June 11, 2009 03:56 PM

You are faking news, right? In a dictator country, why there are so many people can freely express their concerns that are different from their gov? Do you get 50 cents from communist China?

Steven

June 11, 2009 04:03 PM

many free anti-virus software could also provide similar services----Why the scholar or the author of the blog give more details? I have McAFee for many years from personal versions to corporate ones. None can help me to do this.
Ou said in a comment in Wednesday’s China Youth Daily. --------YOu must be very wrong. China Youth Daily is owned by communist gov and China Youth is a groups of people who believe in Communist. According to my impression from your propaganda, these kind of comments should not be allowed as here. some of my comments were filtered in BW that is supposed to be full of freedom. Can China Youth Daily in dictator China be better than BW in free US? You must got 50 cents from gov for this blog.

Steven

June 11, 2009 04:27 PM

Your blog simply repeat what I commented on your another blog. Chinese gov clarified the issues. I am wondering if the gov made changes or simply some reporters don't understand Chinese or falsified the story. I repeat again: No one force the installation, but the software must be supplied with new computer. Users have full rights to determine the installation or uninstallation. THis is the same as MS office or some anti-virus software supplied with new PC in US. You can decide to install it if you want to use them, of course, the software mentioned in the blog is free for Chinese since gov paid for it. One more I can tell is that Chinese retrived the data from the software, most of the blocked websites are actual the porn-web as said by Chinese gov.

Steven

June 11, 2009 04:37 PM

http://bbs.tzhot.com/thread-10-1-1.html
Here is the list of the websites that are blocked by the software, I glanced at it, and found almost all are pron-sites. I don't care too much if gov tries to provide such a software, the only concern is why this company was picked up.

Steven

June 11, 2009 07:40 PM

I think BW's moderation system is not fair for users who put their comments here. This is a very obvious information flow manipulation. This system does not only block different opinions, but also the slow approval give a lot more privileges to the exposure of the original post. Much more readers can read the original post, but they will not come back again to see the comments that were approved more than one day later.

cerebus

June 12, 2009 05:54 AM

Steven, you've got a hell of a nerve to defend a government that doesn't allow you to read information about your own history in your own language, and your hypocrisy to criticize editorial policy here, when your government's own massive "editorial policy" is under discussion, is breathtaking.

In your country you can only express concerns when the government allows you to. Yes, people can be heard on this issue, but just try suggesting the Tiananmen-incident should be re-investigated, or the Dalai Lama might not be looking for independence. And before you accuse me of being a typical Westerner who supported the invasion of Iraq: I'm not Western, and I didn't support the Iraq war. And I could oppose it openly. And please also don't tel me I need to learn more about China. I have already.

Windows Vista comes with parental controls to do this kind of filtering already. Want more details? www.microsoft.com.

Your reaction is stereotypical knee-jerking Chinese nationalist fenqing and above all: bloody embarrassing to straight-thinking Chinese people everywhere. Stop making your country the laughing-stock of the world. We thank you.

Yuri

June 12, 2009 10:39 AM

China requires PCs to come with anti-porn software

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5goTlHz28jUIOSMcwiJD9mX6GVZyQD98MGMR80
But CNN called that :"information censorship".
What a bunch of splitted tongue criminals!

Steven

June 14, 2009 10:43 AM

Cerebus, You only need to read this blog you will understand the political situation:
1. China has some organization that do not belong to gov and not support China, these kind of orgs can express their concerns.
2. This software is not a concern of political freedom as described in this blog. It is an anti-porn software. This is not a political issue at all.
3. Chinese people are freely expressing their opinions on this software today. You can find on any Chinese forums. Apparently Chinese gov does not like those.
4. Vista is a crappy software. MS admitted that almost no Chinese use it. Chinese gov also cannot force people to install Vista.
5. China does not require mandatory installation. People have full Choice on that. How this can cause so many political disturbs in western world? How this policy can be connected with so-called freedom? China gov is not alone for the similar software. S. Korea, Japan and other countries do the same thing.
6. Western media like BW find wrong place to blame gov on this issue. Most of us concern about the corruption in this policy not so-called freemdom when Chinese know the detail of the policy.

How this be connected with Tainanmen incident? Let me tell you that I was a college student at that time and actively participated in the movement. I know a lot more about it. Let me ask you: Do you think US gov allows thousands of people to hold up the meadow before whitehouse for 50 days? Nowadays, thousands protesting happen in China every year, can you give us a list of people who is arrested for peaceful protesting in China?

redp

June 15, 2009 02:57 AM

Cerebus,

the laughing stock is you. We are proud of people like Steven defending against ignorant critics in the likes you and Bruce. China's editorial policy is "under discussion" only by your beloved hooligan western media that flood the world with biased and sensationalisation materials. Many of your media articles are outright fabrications anyway.

don't care what is your kind, but you definitely has no understanding about China, so please don't fake it here like Bruce.

Don

July 4, 2009 10:37 AM

@Redp
Yes, China's editorial policy is under discussion in the West because the Chinese gov't does its best not to allow such discussion amongst its own people. Thankfully, the more intelligent Chinese are beginning to fight back, and complain when the government tries to impose a particularly silly law like the Green Dam requirement. If China is ever to become a true world power, it will be thanks to those Chinese who are willing to take on the oppressive CCP, not knee-jerk nationalists like you and Steve.

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BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.

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