Green Dam delay: How long will it last?

The Chinese government's decision to delay its Green Dam-Youth Escort directive would not only give authorities time to resolve gray issues, but also allow the industry to make the necessary provisions, experts say.
The Chinese government announced earlier this month it would be mandatory for PC manufacturers to install the Green Dam-Youth Escort content filtering software on all new systems sold in China by Jul. 1. On Tuesday, however, it postponed the decision indefinitely.
According to Chinese news agency Xinhua, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) delayed the initiative due to feedback from PC makers, which said they required more time to carry out the installation.
Industry observers ZDNet Asia spoke to painted a picture of confusion among PC manufacturers.
Bryan Ma, IDC's director of personal systems research in the Asia-Pacific region, told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview he was not surprised at the latest development. "At end of the day, the challenge was that the industry really didn't have all the information on hand at such short notice--whether it was [with regard to] how it was distributed, what was required or what wasn't," Ma explained.
Rebecca MacKinnon, assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Centre and co-founder of citizen media community, noted that there have been various interpretations of the directive. The regulations "literally indicated that it needed to be on the computer", but it was unclear if the software had to be activated and running, or installed on the hard drive for users to activate, or simply be made available on a CD-ROM, she explained in a phone interview.
"It's quite possible the order could be modified, in addition to being postponed," MacKinnon said of the delay, adding there was also a chance the directive would never be enforced. "All possibilities exist at this point in time."
Japanese electronics giant Sony is said to have begun selling PCs accompanied by the Green Dam software. A Hangzhou-based user by the name of "Mingcheng" posted an image of a Sony disclaimer notice, which he said was included in the packaging of a new Sony Vaio machine. Among other statements printed in the notice, Sony had stated it would not be responsible for the legality, authenticity and security of the censorware, with regard to the content, effectiveness and performance of Green Dam.
At the time of writing, Sony was unable to confirm the content highlighted in the document.
According to Reuters, Acer also admitted it would comply with the new ruling.
Speaking from London, MacKinnon said vendors that complied too quickly "look bad" as they may appear to be "over-eager to please the Chinese government at the expense of customers' interest". Referring to security concerns over the software, she noted that vendors that had, on the other hand, held back from taking action may indirectly be deemed to protect consumer interest.
Dell Computer, which earlier said it was reviewing the initiative and working with the industry to understand Green Dam's application, issued a new statement on Wednesday.
"We respect the Chinese government's stated goal of protecting children by filtering access to pornography through the Internet," a spokesperson said in an e-mail. "We'll continue to advise customers worldwide about widely available Web-filtering software that has been thoroughly tested, and [that] we know perform well on Dell computers."
Compromises by China puts pressure on PC makers
Raphael Phang, vice president of IDC Government Insights Asia-Pacific, said in a phone interview that the Chinese government's decision to allow PC makers to offer Green Dam on a CD-ROM, as well as to postpone its implementation, can be seen as measures to accommodate the industry.
"Given that China has already put forward such compromises, the question [now] is, what compromise will the PC makers make?" Phang noted.
What the Chinese government is looking to do, he said, is filter Internet content "from every point" possible. "There may be an increased concern on the part of the government that the most common means to access the Internet--PCs--has not been sufficiently addressed," he said.
"This realization may have exacerbated the government's decision to push ahead with its implementation of the filter as a blunt instrument," Phang explained. "It should be noted that China's online population has been estimated at some 300 million, and with a population of over 1 billion, this represents just the tip of the proverbial iceberg."
The lobbying by concerned parties such as the U.S. and U.K. chambers of commerce, as well as trade associations, may have been a factor in the postponement of the mandate. However, this was likely not the only factor, Phang said.
"[Discounting] the lobby, [the Chinese authorities] will have their own set of criteria on what they want to succeed," he said, adding that the Chinese government would likely be concerned the tool they put in place works and meets their objectives.