Reporters Without Borders is very worried about reports that Internet Service Providers in the southern province of Guangdong have installed a new filtering software called Landun (Blue Shield or Blue Dam in English) that is more powerful that its problematic predecessor Green Dam.
The press freedom organisation calls on the provincial and national authorities to explain their intentions with Blue Shield (http://download.bluedon.com/), which ISPs were reportedly told install by 13 September and which is said to be more dangerous for Internet users and companies.
At the same time, Chinese Internet users have told Reporters Without Borders that in the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, on 1 October, it has become harder to visit certain foreign-based websites and more proxies have become inaccessible.
“It was encouraging that the government backed down on Green Dam in the face of a public outcry in China and abroad and protests from Internet players, but the reports of Blue Shield’s installation by some ISPs sound frightening for the protection of personal data and online free expression in China,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“It seems that the government has again acted on the sly, perhaps to avoid a storm of protest similar to the one about Green Dam,” the press freedom organisation added. “We urge Chinese and foreign Internet companies to resist requests from the authorities to install filters and monitoring tools without telling their clients.”
According to an article in the Hong-Kong based Apple Daily (http://tw.nextmedia.com/applenews/article/art_id/31938140/IssueID/20090913), Chinese network providers were given until 13 September to install Blue Shield to avoid being sanctioned.
Blue Shield is said to be more powerful than Green Dam and its installation is obligatory, not optional, as the authorities had reportedly promised. It is intended to provide stronger protection against porn sites and to increase the monitoring and filtering capabilities of Internet connections.
As a result of its installation, Internet users will find it harder to circumvent existing censorship based on website blocking and keyword filtering. The use of proxies (browsing software that sidesteps firewalls) could become more difficult for China’s 300 million Internet users.
Even if it is hard to gauge the impact of this software for Chinese Internet users, access to independent news websites is liable to become more difficult and more risky.
A study of Green Dam by the OpenNet Initiative demonstrated that its keyword filtering was not very effective for the porn sites that are officially targeted, but it was good at blocking political, cultural and news sites. It also filtered out images that have a high percentage of “skin-coloured” pixels but not porn sites with other skin colours. At the same time, the pixel-filtering blocked sites with lots of demonstrators or animals with the censored skin colour.
Testing also showed that Green Dam registers all attempts to visit blocked websites and that computers slow down and become very vulnerable to virus attacks. More dangerously, personal data can be extracted remotely from computers.
Several models of computers with Green Dam installed – made by the Taiwanese manufacturer Acer, the Chinese manufacturer Haier and (as an option) the Japanese manufacturer Sony –reportedly went on sale in China before the official U-turn. Internet cafés have already installed it. We urge these companies to withdraw these computers from sale to avoid being accomplices to the government’s censorship.