• Sun
  • Aug 31, 2014
  • Updated: 6:02am

Censorship fears after edict over porn filter

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 June, 2009, 12:00am

An aggressive move against online pornography that will force computer makers to pre-install a parental-control program has raised concerns about a fresh attempt by the mainland to increase internet censorship.

But the new rule was welcomed by mainland parents concerned about their children easily accessing pornography.

All computer manufactures, distributors and retailers on the mainland - domestic and foreign - must install the program into the operating system of personal computers before selling them, according to a regulation released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on May 19.

The program, called 'Green Dam - Youth Escort', is a software bundle which cost the government more than 40 million yuan (HK$45.3 million) to buy from two domestic software companies for just one year of public use.

The program does not rely on a given list of blocked websites. Powered by two sophisticated artificial-intelligence engines - one to filter explicit images and the other inappropriate language - the program can act unilaterally to decide whether to filter a webpage.

Direct access to most pornographic sites is not possible from the mainland. All internet service providers keep a list of blocked websites that is updated daily.

But many Web users, especially younger people, use proxies - a portal that allows encrypted content transactions - to bypass firewalls.

Lin Yu, a mother of two children in Beijing, said that while the central government had wasted a lot of taxpayers' money on nonsensical projects, this program was an exception. 'To a mother in the digital age, what can be more worrying than finding your 10-year-old son browsing porn sites?' she said.

The Green Dam software, developed by Computer System Engineering, could recognise an explicit image - ranging from pornography and nudity to disturbing violence - with 95 per cent accuracy in 0.2 seconds on a standard personal computer, according to the ministry.

Youth Escort, developed by the Institute of Acoustics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, deals with language and is capable of 'understanding' a webpage by context rather than simply keywords.

Parents and teachers can choose what they want to block, from pornography and violent games to homosexuality and illegal activities such as drug use.

After installing and running the program, which is available for free download from all major internet portals on the mainland, the South China Morning Post found the program could efficiently filter almost all images that contained nudity. But the program hindered the smooth running of a computer, slowing the speed of web surfing and causing the browser to crash occasionally.

With the program installed, the user can access some politically sensitive websites that cannot usually be accessed on the mainland. But if the page contains anything that attacks the government or the Communist Party explicitly, it would be blocked promptly. If users decide they do not want the program, it can be uninstalled.

The ministry launched training courses for PC vendors last month.

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