garylocke.jpgUS-China trade relations are once again being tested, this time by the Chinese government's refusal to revoke its requirement that new PCs come fitted with a Chinese program supposedly designed to only block internet porn, from July 1.

US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke (pictured) yesterday called on China to revoke the proposed rule.

He told his Chinese counterparts that there was rising tide of hostility to the measure not just from western media, which have been quick to jump on the software's political censorship possibilities, but also Chinese citizens and global technology companies that will have to implement it.

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk joined with Locke in urging the Chinese to reconsider. He said:

Protecting children from inappropriate content is a legitimate objective, but this is an inappropriate means and is likely to have a broader scope. Mandating technically flawed Green Dam software and denying manufacturers and consumers freedom to select filtering software is an unnecessary and unjustified means to achieve that objective, and poses a serious barrier to trade.”

The Chinese government seems intent on pressing on with the unpopular measure if only to prove to its critics that Made-in-China internet security software can be as effective as the better-known products of western rivals like Symantec.

Unless the measure is recalled or delayed, PC manufacturers will be required to install the Green Dam program on every new PC sold in China from next week. To complicate matters, US PC makers have been threatened with a cease-and-desist order from a US company that claims the Chinese software infringes its intellectual property, as EngagingChina previously reported.

Despite the government's attempts to deny its political censorship possibilities, the software can apparently do much more than block porn sites.

According to the Guardian newspaper, the software has a coded blacklist of politically sensitive words including “Falun Gong”, the outlawed spiritual group, and 6.4, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The software also lays open PCs to increased security threats, according to Jiangmin, a Chinese security company.

The developer of Green Dam, Jinhui Computer System Engineering, admits that security is weak and says it will close the “backdoors” in future versions.

The Green Dam program is supported by an online database of more than 100,000 forbidden sites that will be updated at least twice a month by Jinhui Computer System Engineering, which is based in Zhengzhou, Henan province.

The algorithm behind Green Dam spots potential porn sites by detecting images with a high proportion of flesh. But its developers clearly forgot that not all flesh is flesh-coloured — dark-skinned porn is apparently not detected so China-based devotees of Ebonystreethooker.com and similar sites can sleep soundly for now.

The software also monitors and restricts the time that children spend on instant messaging and social networking sites.

Western commentators have been quick to jump on the Chinese government for seeking to extend its already extensive internet censorship. But, as the Wall Street Journal notes, similar measures are being considered in several western countries with the aim to protect children and potentially adults from “inappropriate content”, whose precise definition inevitably, is open to much debate. A case of the pot calling the kettle black – or ebony?

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