The Chinese government is backpedalling with all the terse dignity it can muster; its controversial Green Dam end-user censorware has received so much political criticism (and vendor footdragging) that its launch has been delayed:
Xinhua, the state news agency, reported the change of plan four hours before the software launch was due.
“China will delay the mandatory installation of the ‘Green Dam-Youth Escort’ filtering software on new computers,” it said in a terse statement attributed to the ministry of industry and information technology.
The authorities looked likely to miss their deadline for the rollout of the software that blocks pornographic, violent and politically sensitive content.
The Guardian struggled to find a single retailer who had Green Dam either installed or bundled with computers.
Adding to the mystery, Lenovo, Sony, Dell and Hewlett Packard refused to comment on whether their PCs are now being shipped with the software, as the government ordered them to do last month.
The government says the software is necessary to clear the Chinese web of “harmful content”. But critics say it is a misguided attempt to put the internet genie back in the bottle by a Communist party that now has to answer to about 300 million web users.
The appropriately-named Isaac Mao sees this as an epochal moment for the Chinese:
“I think this is the tipping point between the people rising up and those in power trying to suppress them. The great firewall is overloaded and that is why the authorities are trying to move the focus of control to the desktop. But it has annoyed a lot of people. Not just liberals who want free speech but the young who see it as an intrusion into their personal lives.”
I rather suspect that commercial resistance has had as much of a part to play as political. Whether the Communist Party has shot itself in the foot by trying to control something inherently uncontrollable remains to be seen, but this is another example of the web appearing to break down geography and erode the power of nation-states. Revolution seems to be a popular pastime at the moment – maybe we’ll see the Red Dragon try to slip its chains soon? [image by Ed-meister]
Jeff Jarvis takes the opportunity to point out that big companies like Google and Siemens who have been known to collaborate with repressive governments actually have the clout to bring them to the bargaining table… and that as such, it behooves us as their paying customers to keep the pressure on them to play nice:
Technology companies from Cisco to Nokia to Siemens that have provided technology to enable censorship and tracking, and companies from Yahoo to Google that have handed over information about users to governments that use it to oppress citizens should be ashamed. And we need to shame them. We need to give them cover by demanding behavior that is not and does not support evil.
In a digital age, censoring the internet, stopping citizens from connecting with each other, and using the internet to spy on and then oppress citizens is evil. We shame companies that helped enable fascist regimes in the ’30s and apartheid in the last century. Is it time for technology boycotts? I’m not sure. But it is time for the discussion.
I’m not sure outright boycotts would work, if only because of the size and ubiquity of many of the companies in question. But so far it looks like vocal objection and discussion is chipping away at the walls of the more monolithic states; perhaps it’s too much to hope for, but maybe totalitarianism’s time is coming to an end? Even the arch-realist Chairman Bruce suspects we may just not have it in us any more.
Of course, the possibility of sweeping away nation-states only to replace them with equally dictatorial multinational corporations is worth bearing in mind. I think Jarvis is right: we need to keep up the pressure on big businesses so that they don’t start eyeing up empty thrones. Vote with your feet, and with your pocketbook.