ONI Bulletin on China’s Green Dam Filtering Software

The OpenNet Initiative has released a bulletin entitled “China’s Green Dam: The Implications of Government Control Encroaching on the Home PC.” You can read more about it here.

Executive Summary

A recent directive by the Chinese government requires the installation of a specific filtering software product, Green Dam, with the publicly stated intent of protecting children from harmful Internet content. The proposed implementation of software as reviewed in this report would in fact have an influence that extends beyond helping parents protect their children from age inappropriate material; the filtering options include blocking of political and religious content normally associated with the Great Firewall of China, China’s sophisticated national-level filtering system. If implemented as proposed, the effect would be to increase the reach of Internet censorship to the edges of the network, adding a new and powerful control mechanism to the existing filtering system.

As a policy decision, mandating the installation of a specific software product is both unprecedented and poorly conceived. In this specific instance, the mistake is compounded by requiring the use of a substandard software product that interferes with the performance of personal computers in an unpredictable way, killing browsers and applications without warning while opening up users to numerous serious security vulnerabilities. The level of parental control over the software is poor such that this software does not well serve parents that wish to the limit exposure of their children to Internet content.

The mandate requiring the installation of a specific product serves no useful purpose apart from extending the reach of government authorities. Given the resulting poor quality of the product, the large negative security and stability effects on the Chinese computing infrastructure and the intense backlash against the product mandate, the mandate may result in less government control.