Chinese schools quietly discard controversial Web filter

BEIJING Tue Sep 15, 2009 5:19am EDT

People play online games in an internet cafe in downtown Shanghai August 6, 2009. REUTERS/ Nir Elias

People play online games in an internet cafe in downtown Shanghai August 6, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/ Nir Elias

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Schools in Beijing are quietly removing the Green Dam filter, which was required for all school computers in July, due to complaints over problems with the software.

China last month formally backed down on a plan to preinstall the Internet filter software on all new computers sold in the country after July 1 after an international and domestic outcry.

But schools were still ordered by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to install the web filter, which Chinese officials said would block pornography and other unhealthy content. Critics said it could be used to spy on Internet users and block politically sensitive sites.

Nonetheless, some schools have chosen to uninstall it.

"We will remove all Green Dam software from computers in the school as it has strong conflicts with teaching software we need for normal work," said a notice carried on the home page of the Beijing No.50 High School (www.bj50.com), dated Sept 1.

A technology director, surnamed Wang, confirmed Tuesday that the software had been taken off most computers.

"It has seriously influenced our normal work," he said.

The software had proven incompatible with most of the software used for the school administration, he said.

"We have received many complaints from schools about the problems in the software," an official surnamed Sun at the Chongwen District Education Commission, which is in charge of the school, told Reuters.

"It is really a contradictory situation for us," Sun added, saying the commission was caught between central authorities' directions to install the software and the school complaints.

Li Yizhong, minister of industry and information technology, said in August that schools, Internet bars and other public places must still install the Green Dam software. But he said no ordinary consumers would be forced to install it.

The software, developed by Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co, has been condemned by the technology industry as badly designed even for those looking to protect children.

During the Green Dam test phase, an outcry from school computer administrators and teachers throughout the country triggered hot discussions on the Internet about its flaws. The software must be installed on each computer, not from a central server, and can cause other programs to crash.

Earlier this month, some newspapers reported that the Beijing City Education Commission had agreed to let schools uninstall the Green Dam softwares. An official reached by Reuters Tuesday said he knew nothing about the new decision.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

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