Farcical extremes


GREEN DAM: Latest Internet screening programme takes
its duties to farcical extremes – but China is adopting it

Green Dam uses colour and form recognition to zoom in on potential expanses of naked flesh.

BEIJING — What do Johnny Depp, Garfield, Paris Hilton and roast pork have in common? In China, the answer is that a new government-mandated Internet filter rates some pictures of all four of them as bad for your moral health.

Beijing has ordered all personal computers sold in China since the beginning of July to be preinstalled with the Green Dam software, which it says is designed to block pornographic and violent images, and which critics fear will be used to extend censorship in the country.

But a trial of the programme, which is available online for free download at www.skycn.com/soft/46657.html, suggested its filters may be of limited use to worried parents.

When the software is installed, and an image scanner activated, it blocks even harmless images of a film poster for cartoon cat Garfield, dishes of flesh-coloured cooked pork and, on one search engine, a close-up of Johnny Depp’s face.

With the image filter off, while searches with words like “nude” are blocked, a hunt for adult websites throws up links to soft- and hardcore pornography sites, including one with a video of full penetrative sex on its front page.

Green Dam has not detailed how it scans images for obscene content, but computer experts have said it likely uses colour and form recognition to zoom in on potential expanses of naked flesh.

Programme settings allow users to choose how tightly they want images scanned. When too much skin is detected, Green Dam closes all Internet browsers with no warning, sometimes flashing up a notice that the viewer is looking at “harmful” content.

But the interpretation of obscene is apparently generous enough to include the orange hue of Garfield’s fur and, on the highest security settings, prevent viewers clicking through to any illustrated story on one English news site.

The software also allows users to choose what they want to filter for, and besides adult websites and violence, categories include “gay” and “illegal activities”.

Another setting allows Green Dam to take regular snapshots of a user’s screen and store them for up to two weeks — ostensibly so parents can monitor computer use by minors.

But it could also potentially leave security officials a track of computer use by a suspected dissident, or be a gift to fraudsters who are on the hunt for online bank details and private information.

Western governments and trade groups have asked China to reconsi­der implementing Green Dam software based on concerns ranging from cyber-security and performance of the software to Internet freedoms.

— Sapa-AP

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