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Anti-porn filter software stirs up disputes in China
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Chinese government's decision to provide computers with software packages for filtering online pornographic contents has received cautious welcome from PC makers, yet many Internet users are skeptical of the software's capacity.

Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) on Tuesday announced that all computers produced or sold in China after July 1 would be installed with the software package combining Green Dam and Minor Escort programs.

Sources with the ministry revealed on Wednesday that all the computers to be on sale in China's rural areas at an average of 13 percent discount from the government's subsidies have been preloaded the software packages making the total number of preloaded computers exceed 50 million.

After the ministry selected the two filtering programs from a public bidding last month, it has asked all primary and secondary schools to install the software.

So far 20,967 primary and secondary schools had installed the software in some 2,618,000 computers and more than 6,957 websites have installed the software in their computers.

The ministry on Wednesday insisted that its notice to the PC makers and sellers does not mean the software's installation to user's operating system is mandatory, instead, the software package should be installed on either the hard drives or a compact disc with the computers.

"We only provide an option for the computer users, especially the parents of minors," said Zhang Chenmin, general manager of Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co. Ltd., developer of the Green Dam.

"The only thing that PC makers should do is to preload the package into their computer's hard drives, which will not activate the software programs," he said.

The users could choose whether installing or not, Zhang said, promising that the software will not be a tool spying into the user's personal information.

The ministry spokesman Liu Lihua said that the software could be switched off and uninstalled by computer users.

China's PC giant Lenovo Wednesday continued to refuse giving an official comment on the ministry's policy. But a senior sale's manager said preloading the software package would not bring decline for their PCs.

"Some customers do consult us about whether the software will collect their personal information and I don't believe it will happen," Gong Guozheng, manager in charge of Lenovo's marketing in universities and colleges said.

"I think the software will not disturb regular customer's surfing and it will not compromise our marketing plan," he said.

However, Chinese scholars challenged the ministry's policy even though the government's intention to keep minors away from porn and violent contents is sincere.

"I have the freedom to decide whether or not to install a locker to my home," Dr. Ma Guangyuan with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said, "parent's worry about their children's porn-free environment is reasonable, but this is not an excuse for asking all new computers to be preloaded with the software because I can use it by myself."

Lv Jingjian, a director with China Computer Federation, said there should be a public hearing if the government wants the public to use a uniformed software package.

A scholar named Ou Muhua also questioned that why the ministry did not publicize the public bidding for the porn-filtering software before the Tuesday's announcement.

"The filtering function of the Green Dam and Youth Escort is not a new technology and many free anti-virus software could also provide similar services," Ou said in a comment in Wednesday's China Youth Daily.

More than 40 million yuan has been spent in buying one-year long use of the software, but "how did the ministry conduct the public bidding and why didn't it publicize the process of the bidding?" he questioned.

"If many users do not use or uninstall the anti-porn software after they buy the computers, that would be a huge waste of tax payer's money," Ma Guangyuan said.

Qiu Baochang, a senior attorney with China Consumers' Association, defended the government's policy, saying that a public hearing was not necessary since the 40 million yuan was from the central government's budget which had already been approved by the top legislature during its annual session.

(Xinhua News Agency June 11, 2009)

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