BEIJING (Reuters) - A Washington-based group representing information technology companies called on China on Wednesday to reconsider its requirement that Internet filtering software be bundled with new computers.
Chinese regulations mandate “Green Dam,” a program developed by Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co., be pre-installed on personal computers manufactured or shipped after July 1. China says the filter is designed to block pornography.
The move has raised concerns from industry as well as rights groups, ranging from worries about compatibility and support for the software to cyber-security and Internet freedoms.
“The Information Technology Industry Council, the Software & Information Industry Association, the Telecommunications Industry Association and TechAmerica urge the Chinese government to reconsider implementing its new mandatory filtering software requirement and would welcome the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue,” said a joint statement.
“We believe there should be an open and healthy dialogue on how parental control software can be offered in the market in ways that ensure privacy, system reliability, freedom of expression, the free flow of information, security and user choice,” it said.
Members include many leading American computer manufacturers and software developers.
The document requiring the software was formally published by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on Tuesday, after being circulated to computer manufacturers in mid-May. Chinese authorities had earlier assured manufacturers that the software would only be required for computers sold in schools.
The project to develop the filtering software had the “strong support” of Chinese propaganda chief and fifth-ranked official Li Changchun, according to project documents seen by Reuters.
By Tuesday evening, the user feedback portion of a website for downloading (www.lssw365.net) the software was “under maintenance.”
Jinhui’s website, which was also inaccessible, had crashed due to too much traffic, said founder Bryan Zhang.
“This software is optional for the user and not mandatory, this is the main point,” Zhang said, adding it would be shipped with new computers to avoid the cost of advertising the service.
“It’s just for people who care about children, and protecting them from porn. The user is very free to delete it.”
Many Chinese newspapers carried the news of the regulation on their front pages on Wednesday, generally describing it as an anti-pornography measure but raising concerns about consumers’ right to privacy.
The Beijing Times accompanied its story with pie charts from an independent web survey, showing that most survey respondents thought the software violated privacy and were not willing to pay for it once the free one-year subscription expired.
But the government stood by the regulation.
“If you have children or are expecting a child you could understand the concerns of the parents over unhealthy online content,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters on Tuesday.
“The Internet in China is open and the Chinese government is devoted to developing it. But the government also administers the Internet according to the law to prevent the spread of harmful content.”
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Sugita Katyal