06 July 2009

China: Gives Up on Green Dam, People Celebrate

03 07 2009 - In a very unexpected move, the Chinese authorities have indefinitely postponed their order that all PCs sold in the country must come with software, called Green Dam Youth Escort, that blocks certain websites.

According to Reuters, Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, who had previously organized a protest against the Green Dam initiative, has also called on the people of China to celebrate its demise. About 200 Beijing residents, dressed in t-shirts mocking Green Dam, have arrived at a trendy art zone cafe to party all day in celebration of this victory in a war against censorship.

The Chinese authorities were under a great deal of pressure from various trade groups, American, European and Japanese chambers of commerce, and the U.S. National Association of Manufacturers, which sent a letter of protest against the measure, claiming it “raises significant questions of security, privacy, system reliability, the free flow of information and user choice.”

The combination of a huge public outcry against Green Dam and the reluctance of PC sellers to comply probably wouldn’t have been enough to convince the Chinese government to give up on Green Dam, but the fact that this measure was obviously undertaken in haste, with Green Dam itself having some serious issues (it doesn’t, for example, support 64-bit operating systems), was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back. In a word, Green Dam was not only unpopular; it was nearly impossible to implement.

Unfortunately, however important, this victory is a minor one. The Green Dam initiative was only postponed by the The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology; it could be reinstated at a later date. Even more importantly, Chinese Internet users are still behind the iron veil of the Great Firewall of China, which blocks them from visiting certain websites, with the blockade often spreading to the most popular internet destinations. I hope that the Chinese authorities have really softened up when it comes to censorship, but I fear that this might only be a minor drawback in their quest for total control of the Chinese Internet.


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