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Buy computer, get censor free

world Updated: Jun 12, 2009 10:42 IST
Reshma Patil

The product cannot guarantee to filter all unhealthy information on the Internet, nor guarantee all information being filtered is completely unhealthy

— Green Dam and Minor Escort software.

Confused? The world’s computer makers are grappling with a sweeping new dictat from Beijing’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, to preinstall an Internet censor on millions of computers produced or sold in China from July 1.

The software, to be installed on hard drives or provided on a compact disc, will filter access to online porn, violence, drugs and homosexuality.

The software’s blacklist is not public. But a teacher complained on Green Dam’s website that the software would not let her see pictures of pigs, reported The New York Times.

Beijing’s zealous Internet censors already block YouTube and thousands of websites, blogs and web searches to control the spread of politically sensitive information and stifle debate.

This latest censorship, ostensibly aimed at protecting children, will let the government control Internet use like never before in the world’s largest online community of 300-million odd Chinese netizens.

The software developers have taken pains to deny that the software is spyware in disguise, and say that users can uninstall or switch it off. But users and computer experts are reacting with open suspicion.

Outraged Chinese bloggers are questioning why the move was not publicised before it was made mandatory. Mild-mannered academicians are giving unusually vocal interviews about the freedom of choice.

Even the propaganda-savvy government-run media has joined the fierce debate.

“I have the freedom to decide whether or not to install a locker to my home,” Ma Guangyuan of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said in the China Daily newspaper, which has launched an online poll on the software. So far, the majority has voted against it.

“Government power should not be abused,” the paper quoted Yu Guoming, a journalism expert at the Renmin University, as saying. PC makers who dare not openly oppose the Chinese government despite the nearly impossible July 1 deadline, are dodging media interviews.

According to State-run media, over 20,000 schools and 50 million computers on subsidised sale in rural China have already preloaded the software that cost 40 million yuan of government funds.

What next?