Damned if they do, damned if they do not. The Chinese government's zeal to protect its citizens from internet pornography and other “unsuitable” content is creating major headaches for western IT companies.

First it was Solid Oak Software, a Californian software company that makes software to protect PCs from spyware and other net-born bets. The Californian company alleges that the Made-in-China filtering program, which is called Green Dam-Youth Project, has too many similarities with its own CyberSitter program.

Now, It has issued a cease-and-desist order to US PC makers HP and Dell, alleging that the internet filtering program they are obliged to install on computers sold in the Chinese market infringes its intellectual property

The big US PC makers have therefore now been drawn into the controversy. As well as having to deal with the cease-and-desist order from Solid Oak, Dell and HP fear a political backlash if they seen to be actively helping China police its citizens by installing the filtering program. But they cannot afford to upset the Chinese government.

Although they lag behind domestic rival Lenovo, China has grown to be a strategically important market for the two big US PC makers.

As part of its economic stimulus measures, the government has earmarked 20bn yuan in subsidies for consumers in rural areas to buy electrical goods and Michael Dell wants Dell PCs to appear on those rural shopping lists.

The IT Information Council, a lobbying group for the US IT industry, urged the Chinese government to “reconsider” implementing the filtering software. Its unlikely that the government will withdraw the requirement completely. One compromise would be for the software to come installed on every new PC, but with the decision left to the user — or parent — as to whether they activate it or not.

The most palatable solution for the PC makers would be for the software to come on a separate CD that parents can choose to install to protect their children.

But with just two weeks to go before the mandate comes into effect, the ITIC fears that time is running out to reach a”reasonable resolution”.

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