Actually, Green Dam Youth Escort (绿坝·花季护航) is “content-control software” developed in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Ostensibly designed to block pornography, Green Dam can actually be used to block other content, as well. A week ago China announced that as of July 1, 2009, all computers sold in China must be installed with Green Dam. Under the guise of screening out pornography, its true main purpose is for the PRC government to censor and spy on its citizens. Not only does Green Dam automatically download the latest updates of a list of prohibited sites from an online database, it also collects private user data.
Due to a public backlash to its original announcement, the PRC government later announced that the installation of the software is “optional.” While much of the outcry from users and computer manufacturers was surrounding issues of censorship, the real reason for the PRC’s about-face is because there are many security flaws within the software that allows hackers to take over computers. In fact, typical of what you might expect from China, a place where piracy of all kinds runs rampant, it turns out that Green Dam is built upon copyright and open source violations. ZDNet Government reports that Green Dam not only rips off Cybersitter software from Solid Oak, but that it also uses open source code without proper attribution.
Outside of the security vulnerabilities and its copied source code, Green Dam also has a number of major functional defects. From Wikipedia:
Green Dam Youth Escort recognizes pornographic images by analyzing skin-coloured regions, complemented by human face recognition. However, according to a Southern Weekly article, the software is incapable of recognizing pictures of nudity featuring black- or red-skinned characters but sensitive enough to images with large patches of yellow that it censors promotional images of the film Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties. The article also cited an expert saying that the software’s misrecognition of “inappropriate contents” in applications including Microsoft Word can lead it to forcefully close those applications without notifying the user, and so cause data losses.
Wikipedia shows a photo of pigs, banned because the pink pigs “matched” the color of human skin.
Not surprisingly, says ZDNet Government, “Chinese youth mock the Green Dam program, kidding each other that if they don’t behave, ‘I’ll youth-escort you.’ Anti-Green Dam websites and petitions are popular. And a Manga-style cartoon mocking the thought police has appeared: Green Dam Girl (绿坝娘).” Chinese blogger Hecaitou says that the images of Green Dam Girl show “the creativity of the post 80s generation (i.e. those born after 1980). The character carries a rabbit (the Green Dam software’s mascot), wears a River Crab badge (a pun about ‘harmonious society that Chinese netizens use to mock Internet censorship), and holds a bucket of paint (or soy sauce) to wipe out online filth.” Says Greenormal, “The police cap emblazoned with a crab, a pun on the Chinese word for “harmonious”, the government’s euphemism for a society without unrest, controversy or opposition.”
Despite the temporary “good news” that Green Dam is now “optional,” it is clear that the PRC government will not give up its intent to control internet speech. It will be up to global citizens to be vigilant and pressure the global computer companies to refuse to be collaborators of such government control.
It sounds like a major FAIL, all the way around. But I did get a chuckle out of the picture of Green Dam Girl pulling down Windows XP Girl’s underwear. Come on, you did, too… didn’t you?!
PS – I normally would not be using simplified Chinese characters, but this is an article about the PRC, so the proper names of these things do actually use this bastardized form of Chinese.
PPS – You think if 8Asians wasn’t already being banned by Green Dam that this post will get it done?