[UPDATE 08.19] Announcement from Chinese official and translation: Green Dam no longer mandatory for general consumers

The Global Network Initiative is actively monitoring developments regarding the Chinese government’s directive that requires computer manufacturers to install the Green Dam/Youth Escort content control software on personal computers produced or sold in China. This directive is ostensibly intended to protect children from sexually explicit content, but in fact raises significant challenges for companies in the technology sector that also have a responsibility to respect human rights. The Global Network Initiative (GNI) offers a multi-stakeholder forum that provides operational guidance and a credible system for companies to develop effective strategies in response to these challenges.

Protection of children from exploitation and exposure to inappropriate material online is a legitimate public policy goal, which many countries around the world pursue. This goal can be achieved in ways consistent with international norms protecting the rights to freedom of expression and privacy. For example, public education regarding the availability of a wide variety of user-controlled filtering tools that allow parents and guardians to manage unwanted content in a way that is most appropriate for children under their care. Various companies – including the three company members of GNI – as well as other organizations offer a wide range of such software tools. However, the government mandate to pre-load the Green Dam/Youth Escort software on all PCs produced and sold in China clearly raises human rights concerns that the information and communications technology (ICT) sector must address.

The GNI Principles are grounded in international human rights standards for freedom of expression and privacy. Under these standards, the right to freedom of expression should not be restricted by governments except in narrowly defined circumstances, consistent with international human rights norms and the rule of law. Importantly, such restrictions should be necessary and proportionate for the relevant purpose.

Much about how the Green Dam/Youth Escort software functions in practice is yet to be determined and several GNI members are undertaking such an analysis. However, a number of facts about the software have been established that raise human rights concerns.

The concurrent and cumulative issues that implicate human rights and undermine user choice include the requirement for mandatory installation; the difficulty of uninstalling the software; and filtering that goes beyond sexually explicit or other content inappropriate for children. Results from independent tests of the software reported on Global Voices Online and elsewhere indicate that political content was indeed part of the website library of filtered content. An approach for protecting children online that requires the mandatory installation of a particular software package that is difficult to uninstall and filters far more than sexually explicit content is not consistent with the practices of other countries that have encouraged parental control tools and is far out of proportion to the goal of child protection.

Public opposition (including a legal challenge) to this software mandate within China is growing. The Chinese press and diverse parts of Chinese civil society have expressed concerns about privacy, security, transparency, consumer choice, and whether the cost of this effort is justifiable. In fact, the government recently clarified that use of the software by citizens is not mandatory in its official media statements. We hope that the domestic reaction within China will encourage the Chinese government to reconsider this mandate more fundamentally.

Nevertheless, there are many questions unanswered. Are any companies working with the software vendor to try and put the software in the market?  If the government clarifies its directive so that the software is shipped on a disk but not pre-installed, what should companies do to avoid complicity in censorship of political, religious, and cultural information online?  How can governments appropriately protect children from exploitation and exposure to inappropriate material? What steps should companies take to address such requests or directives? Hardware and software design companies will need to have adequate due diligence measures in place to ensure that they are prepared to address these questions in a way that respects fundamental human rights.

The GNI can help to address those dilemmas since it is a unique organization with the capacity to provide operational guidance on human rights issues in a collaborative setting. In particular, the GNI offers credible, operational guidance for companies, built on extensive experience, guided by a broad set of perspectives, and rooted in international human rights principles. The GNI also offers both technology sector companies and academics, investors, and non-governmental organizations an opportunity for frank discussion, collaboration on matters of public policy and corporate responsibility, and the sharing of expertise. Among the GNI principles and operational guidelines that are relevant to manufacturing and software companies:

  • Participating companies will respect and protect the freedom of expression of their users by seeking to avoid or minimize the impact of government restrictions on freedom of expression.
  • Participating companies will employ human rights impact assessments to identify circumstances when freedom of expression and privacy may be jeopardized or advanced, and develop appropriate risk mitigation strategies, e.g., when designing and introducing new technologies, products, and services.
  • GNI participants will engage proactively with governments to reach a shared understanding of how government restrictions can be applied in a manner consistent with human rights norms. Companies will seek modification from authorized officials when government restrictions appear overbroad, not required by domestic law or inconsistent with international human rights standards.
  • Participating companies will give clear, prominent, and timely notice to users when access to content has been limited due to government restrictions.
  • GNI participants acknowledge and support appropriate initiatives that seek to identify, prevent, and limit access to illegal online activity such as child exploitation. Such initiatives raise potential concerns regarding freedom of expression and should therefore be narrowly tailored and subject to the rule of law.

[UPDATE 08.19] Announcement from Chinese official and translation: Green Dam no longer mandatory for general consumers

On August 13, 2009, Li Yizhong, China’s Minister of Industry and Information Technology, responded to questions about the status of the Green Dam mandate at an official press event:


“We are still going to install the software on computers in schools, Internet cafes, and other public venues. As for general consumers, we will fully respect everyone’s freedom of choice, and mandatory pre-installation on all computers sold will definitely not happen; there is no question of that.”

Full transcript:
尊重消费者选择自由 计算机不会被强制安装“绿坝” (Respect the Consumer’s Freedom of Choice: Computers Will Not Be Forced To Have Green Dam Installed), Official website of the Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China, August 13, 2009.

English Translation by Human Rights in China, August 2009.

[UPDATE 06.25] Additional Resources on Green Dam


China’s Green Dam: The Implications of Government Control Encroaching on the Home PC
By the Open Net Initiative

Analysis of the Green Dam Censorware System
By Scott Wolchok, Randy Yao & J. Alex Halderman
Computer Science and Engineering Division, University of Michigan

A Technical Analysis of the Chinese ‘Green Dam Youth-Escort’ Censorship Software
Wikileaks, An Independent Chinese group report


GNI Non-Company Participants

Center for Democracy & Technology

China Backs Off Green Dam Filtering Mandate
June 30, 2009

Buy a Computer, Get a Firewall… and More?

June 8, 2009

Committee to Protect Journalists

Seeing red over green: China to install censorship software
June 12, 2009

Human Rights Watch

China: Filtering Software Challenges Computer Industry: Technology Companies Should Resist Censorship Attempts
June 19, 2009
Blogpost from Human Rights Watch

Open Letter to Computer Makers Regarding Chinese Filtering Software Directive
Letter sent to Dell, Inc., Hewlett-Packard Company, and Lenovo Group, Ltd.
Arvind Ganesan
Director, Business and Human Rights Program
Human Rights Watch

Selection of Coverage by Rebecca MacKinnon.

Green Dam is Breached… Now What?, July 2, 2009

Green Damned, June 17, 2009

More Green Dam Documents and Statements, June 12, 2009

Original government document ordering “Green Dam” software installation, June 8, 2009

China’s “Green Dam Youth Escort” software, June 8, 2009

GNI Company Participants

Yahoo! (now Verizon Media) , as quoted in WSJ:

“Like other global businesses, we will continue analyze international developments that may impact our industry. We strongly support the free flow of information and the right to freedom of expression.”
June 8, 2009

Kevin Kutz, Director of Public Affairs, Microsoft:

“Microsoft believes that the availability of appropriate parental control tools is an important societal consideration for industry and governments around the world.  At the same time, Microsoft is committed to helping advance the free flow of information and to encouraging transparency, deliberation and restraint with respect to Internet governance.  In this case, we agree with others in industry and around the world that important issues such as freedom of expression, privacy, system reliability and security need to be properly addressed.”


June 10, 2009
Op-ed by Michael Shtender-Auerbach,
Founder and Chief Executive of Social Risks LLC
“Hardware Risk: China Targets PC Manufacturers”
Huffington Post

June 9, 2009
Public Joint Statement by The Information Technology Industry Council, the Software & Information Industry Association, the Telecommunications Industry Association and TechAmerica:

“The Information Technology Industry Council, the Software & Information Industry Association, the Telecommunications Industry Association and TechAmerica urge the Chinese government to reconsider implementing its new mandatory filtering software requirement and would welcome the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue. We believe there should be an open and healthy dialogue on how parental control software can be offered in the market in ways that ensure privacy, system reliability, freedom of expression, the free flow of information, security and user choice.”