08 June 2009

China's Censorware: What about GNU/Linux?

News is breaking that the Chinese government will insist on censorware being shipped with all PCs:

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.

There's more background information and discussion about the quaintly-named "Green Dam Youth Escort" here, including a link to the software itself.

This turns out - surprise, surprise, to be a Windows executable, which raises a question: what will the Chinese government do about GNU/Linux? Will they simply ignore that platform, or insist that a GNU/Linux version be developed?

And what happens if one day the use of that software becomes mandatory (it seems voluntary at the moment - but we all know how these things are the thin end of the wedge)?

How will the authorities in China - and, ultimately, elsewhere - cope with the freedom built into GNU/Linux? Will GNU/Linux one day become illegal in those parts of the world benighted enough to mandage online censorship?

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.


David A. Lane, KG4GIY said...

Interesting stuff, and certainly scary. Makes one wonder if here in the US, something like that could be mandated by State for example to block access to gambling websites. After all, from a corporate perspective, this sort of thing is done at the firewalls now, and certainly some ISPs have been ordered to block sites at their gateways.

Having on the individual machines is a massive undertaking.

Glyn Moody said...

I fear that where there is the political will, the technical aspects become relatively easy...

Anonymous said...

I give a Chinese programmer/hacker 2 seconds to make such a thing obsolete.:^)

Glyn Moody said...

sure, but it's a question of how serious a crime they'll make that, and how many people are willing to run the risk.

Anonymous said...


Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for the link.

Lam said...

First, regarding the censorship, if the Chinese are like the Americans, then it will be effective. However, it will serve little more than a minor hindrances for real criminals, since they will just bypass it with ease. So, no big deal. Remember that Asians have been using proxy to bypass firewall forever.

Secondly, regarding GNU/Linux, if you have not heard, China has a distro called Red Flag Linux, which has "been tested by Bureau of Culture." (from Wikipedia). Given that, I would guess that they can just install some censoring software on the distro, and make it recommendation for all uses. Obviously, since GNU/Linux is much much more secure than Windows, removing such code is a bit less trivial in GNU/Linux than in Windows.

However, as I said, it will only work for people like "mainstream Americans" (aka whiners who insist on "just work"). For anyone who know how to play with their machines, well, execuse me, but compiling from source like Gentoo is fun, and I can change the code, you know :P.

Glyn Moody said...

@Magice: I'm sure you're right - it's always the law-abiding citizens that get hit.

And yes, I know of Red Flag, and that was partly my point: will the Chinese government start micromanaging the code there?