Effective July 1, 2009, computers manufactured and sold in China must contain a web filtering software package known as "Green Dam." According to a June 12th article in PC Magazine, Green Dam is not only based on, appears, and functions like the well-known American software package CyberSitter, but also contains a large percentage of pirated code from that package as well, including DLLs (digital library links) that even make "call backs" to CyberSitter's servers for updates (Hachman, 2009). As of June 8th, it was estimated that 3.2 million copies had been downloaded directly from Green Dam's website, including thousands of Chinese schools that were required to have the software installed by May 31st.
Completely aside from concerns over China's ever increasing attempts at Internet censorship, raised by such international advisory groups as the Internet Society, researchers and computer analysts have been quick to highlight the bevy of technological flaws this CyberSitter clone reportedly suffers from (Jacobs, 2009). These flaws include vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers as well as programming errors that can cause the operating system to crash (Dignan, 2009).
From our perspective here at Middle Kingdom Life—within the limited context of foreign teachers and other expats living and working in China—while the media and myriad of China-related blogs have been quick to jump all over this story, we feel that all the fervor over this Green Dam requirement is "much to do about nothing." The fact that China has a vested interest in controlling Internet usage is certainly no longer late-breaking news and, the fact of the matter is, we are discussing a computer software package here, not a mandated country-specific firmware revision. Most Westerners who purchase laptops and desktop computers in China end up conducting a clean install of the English version of Windows XP or Vista anyway, as the Chinese version that is typically provided is useless unless one can read Chinese.
As we see it, the grossly limited, unreliable, and often impeded Internet bandwidth outside of China is what Western expats living in China should really be concerning themselves with. Not everyone can wake up at four o'clock in the morning to surf their favorite international websites so that they don't have to wait up to one minute for each page to load (assuming they can even access the page at all).
UPDATE June 23, 2009
The latest word is that the Chinese government has rescinded its Green Dam software mandate and that installation of the software will be entirely optional. According to an article in the Guardian by Jonathan Watts, June 16, 2009, "The Green Dam Youth Escort program, which restricts access to pornography and politically sensitive websites, was due to be compulsorily incorporated in the hard drives of all new machines sold after 1 July, but the state-run media announced today that it would instead be an optional package" Retrieved June 23, 2009 from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/16/china-backs-down-censorship-software.