Monday, June 8, 2009

Here's where you wonder if American corporations or the Federal government will ever grow a pair....

... and tell China what to do with its pending new orders for castrated PCs.

From WSJ:

BEIJING -- China plans to require that all personal computers sold in the country as of July 1 be shipped with software that blocks access to certain Web sites, a move that could give government censors unprecedented control over how Chinese users access the Internet.

The government, which has told global PC makers of the requirement but has yet to announce it to the public, says the effort is aimed at protecting young people from "harmful" content. The primary target is pornography, says the main developer of the software, a company that has ties to China's security ministry and military.

So here's the question: will the Federal government and/or American businesses decide to go right ahead and take the profits available from censorship or not?

As a libertarian, I know it's their free choice, and I expect the argument that somebody in France or Germany or Korea will sell neutered computers if we don't.

I also know that expecting any sense of protecting individual liberty in large organizations--government or corporate--is a lost cause: after all, we pretty much all have televisions with the V-chip, now don't we?

Or (and this would be a lot more fun, now that I think about it), we could sell them the damn computers and then saturate the internet with freeware that is capable of eliminating their software filtering system....


Miko said...

Eliminating filtering software usually is fairly easy, unless it's coupled with spyware (since then you need to also generate fake spy reports); even with spyware it's doable. I'd be surprised if a workaround isn't published withing 24 hours after the initial release.

China has been fighting and losing this battle (at least among the tech-savvy) for years. I too wish they'd stop trying, but in the mean time it'll serve only to highlight how ineffective their efforts necessarily must be.

tom said...

Steve, I'm curious what you think the U.S Federal Government has to do with any of this. They don't manufacture computers. And you couldn't really be implying that you want them to ban the manufacture or sale of filtering software, could you?

Nancy Willing said...

I just got an email about this. Sign a petition if you think it will help (link on my blog). It looks like there is enough pushback now to slow this thing down.

"There is already buzz that manufacturing executives will attempt to negotiate with the Chinese government to roll back this rule — this is a great first step. But it's not enough.
Click here to tell Dell CEO Michael Dell and HP CEO Mark Hurd to pursue these negotiations as vigorously as possible — and, if all else fails, to refuse to install the "Green Dam" software on their machines. "

tom said...

it would be nice if computer vendors felt strongly enough about freedom of information to risk 100% of sales in their largest (or soon to be largest) market, but i wouldn't really fault them if they don't.

in the end, it doesn't matter either way because connection filtering is performed by software, and software can be easily modified or replaced.

even if Microsoft, Apple, etc. cooperate fully with the Chinese gov't and implement filters, and optionally use hardware DRM to make it difficult to bypass or remove, it will eventually be bypassed or removed by hackers, who will distribute their mods widely.

and that is completely ignoring the impact of Free & Open Source operating systems like Linux and FreeBSD which are very widely used in China. While China may be able to intimidate some of the major Linux vendors (Dell, Redhat, Suse) w/ loss of sales, any restrictions they included could be trivially removed.

and there is no such possibility w/ FreeBSD or other BSD variants (although I'd love to see how Theo de Raadt would respond to such a request), or most of the lesser known Linux distributions because there are no vendors--they are created by volunteers and distributed free by tens of millions of servers around the world. even if they were all well advertised it would be a daunting task for any firewall to block them all.