China is requiring personal computers sold domestically to carry software that blocks online pornography and other Web sites — potentially giving the government new control over the Internet with a tool the developer said Monday will give parents more oversight.
The software, called "Green Dam-Youth Escort," prevents computers from accessing sites with pornographic pictures or language, Zhang Chenmin, general manager of Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co., told The Associated Press. The company was compiling a database of sites to block.
The software could also be used to block other Web sites, depending on keywords, Zhang said. The Chinese government routinely blocks political sites, especially ones it considers socially destabilizing such as sites that challenge the ruling Communist Party, promote democratic reform or advocate independence for Tibet.
Parents can also add sites to the database of blacklisted sites, Zhang said, and consumers will be able to uninstall the software.
"If a father doesn't want his son to be exposed to content related to basketball or drugs, he can block all Web sites related to those things," Zhang said.
He said users could also unblock Web sites, but they will not be able to see the full database. He said the software does not monitor or send IP addresses to third parties.
Zhang said his company, based in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan in central China, signed a $3 million contract with the Chinese government last May to develop the software and distribute it to personal computer-makers free of charge within one year, to be included with units meant for domestic sale. The software was jointly developed by Beijing Dazheng Language Technology Co. Ltd., which declined to comment.
China, which has the world's largest population of Internet users at more than 250 million, this year launched a nationwide crackdown on Internet pornography, which is banned in China. More than 1,900 Web sites have been shut down since the beginning of the campaign and Web sites including Google and Baidu, China's most popular search engine, were criticized for linking to suspect sites.
According to the Wall Street Journal on Monday, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a notice on May 19 to personal computer-makers that PCs to be sold in China as of July 1 must be preloaded with the software.
The program would either be installed on the hard drive or enclosed on a compact disc, the paper reported, adding that PC makers would be required to tell authorities how many PCs they have shipped with the software.
The ministry did not immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press by phone or fax. A separate notice on its Web site said all primary and secondary schools were required to install the Green Dam software on every school computer by the end of last month.
Educators "should fully realize the damage that harmful online information does to the physical and mental health of primary and secondary school students," the notice said.
In a statement, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard Co. said it is working with the Information Technology Industry Council, a trade group, to "seek additional information, clarify open questions and monitor developments on this matter."
The trade group declined official comment Monday. PC makers Lenovo Group of Beijing, Dell Inc. of Round Rock, Texas, and Apple Inc. of Cupertino, Calif., did not immediately respond to e-mail and phone requests for comments.