China's Green Dam: Buggy, Insecure and IP-Infringing...What A Sham
One of the more controversial posts in my recent ‘Dispatches From Taiwan’ series discussed, among other things, the Green Dam content filtering software which (while I was overseas) the People’s Republic of China government announced would be required on PCs sold in the country as of July 1. As more details on Green Dam have emerged, my initial concern has been unfortunately ratified and in fact amplified:
- Although MIIT (the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology) initially indicated that Green Dam’s purpose was only to block access to pornography, violent content and other material judged unacceptable for minors, analysis of the software has revealed that it’s also queued up to filter out political opinions deemed contrary to the State’s directions.
- University of Michigan researchers have found severe security vulnerabilities that could enable remote hosts to easily gain control over a computer running Green Dam (analogies to Sony’s rootkit debacle are apt).
- It’s unable to block some sites that it’s intended to target, and conversely it prevents access to some innocuous material.
- Green Dam, without permission or compensation, uses blacklists and source code from U.S. software manufacturer Solid Oak Software. It also incorporates open source code without honoring the terms of the associated licensing agreements.
Nonetheless, although the official rollout has been delayed, it’s still planned and it’s still compulsory. In fact, some PC manufacturers such as Sony have jumped the gun and already begun shipping systems containing the buggy initial version of Green Dam, based on the original government edict. A Mac OS X version of Green Dam is also under development, although a Linux variant is not (yet) planned, and on Windows systems Green Dam supposedly only targets Internet Explorer (hint: install Chrome, Firefox, Opera, or Safari, folks).
None of this should unfortunately be a surprise to anyone who’s followed the PRC’s historical actions. After all, this is a government who’s currently involved in a heavy-handed tussle with Google regarding search result filtering…even though it seems to be leaving its homegrown Google competitor, Baidu, alone. And this is a government, like Iran in recent weeks, that responds to citizen protests by blocking access to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter which would otherwise enable those protesters to tell the world of its violent crackdown reactions.
How is the rest of the world, from a business or any other standpoint, supposed to take seriously a government that repeatedly ignores fundamental copyright principles, that more generally gives blatant favoritism to its own companies and technologies, and that so vigorously constrains the free flow of information to and from its citizens?