by Xinhua writer Liu Min
BEIJING, June 27 (Xinhua) -- Should every computer in China be installed with a filter software? And should the government make a decision before making the software known to the public and listening to their views?
Heated debates have arisen since the government said earlier this month that all computers sold in China would have to include software packages for filtering out online pornography.
On June 9, a filtering program named "Green Dam and Escorting Minors" was introduced to the public by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).
The software was said to be able to identify and block pornographic or violent images and words on the Internet. The package could also help parents control how much time their children spent online.
According to the MIIT, all new computers in China must have this software package pre-installed as of July 1.
Ma Jingjing, who works for a foreign company in Beijing, has a 7-year-old son. She told Xinhua: "I would like to try it on my family computer, but I don't think it is very necessary for the company. The company has its own software system and must consider business secrets."
The MIIT said that the government's policy was arrived at "in response to calls from many schools and parents".
There are millions or even tens of millions of web pages with content that could be classified as pornographic. According to a report from the China Youth and Children Research Center inn April, about 48 percent of Chinese minors had visited "unhealthy websites."
However, there are a lot of people who are hesitant or skeptical when it comes to accepting the government's decision to install the software.
Ma Pengfei, who runs a personal computer business in northwest Beijing's Zhongguancun district, told Xinhua: "Few clients have asked about [Green Dam], and fewer said they want to install it."
When asked why people are indifferent over installing the software, Yu Guoming, a professor at the Renmin University of China, said: "Minors only account for no more than one quarter of the population. People may not think it's necessary to install filter software on all computers."
Yu suggested that the government install Green Dam on computers that are used in such public places as museums, schools and libraries.
Ma Pengfei said: "The government's original intention was good, but it is not proper for the government to make the installation mandatory when the public know little about the software."
The MIIT has already made an oral clarification. On June 10, it said: "The notice to PC makers and sellers does not mean that the software's installation as part of users' operating systems is mandatory. Instead, the software package should be installed on either the hard drives or a compact disc with the computers."
MIIT spokesman Liu Lihua said that the software could be switched off and uninstalled by computer users.
Zhang Chenmin, general manager of Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co. Ltd., developer of Green Dam, said the software was just a way of providing an option for computer users, especially the parents of minors.
Zhang said that the software would not be used to spy on users' personal information.
But, Ma Jingjing, the mother of a seven-year-old, said: "I still worry about whether the software will disturb the normal operation of my computer."
Green Dam has also been criticized for possible technical flaws.
A report from researchers at the University of Michigan in the United States alleged that Green Dam had faults that could leave PCs open to hacker attacks and downloads of malicious software.
And there's some question about whether the software even really knows what it's looking for.
When software enthusiasts tested cartoons using Green Dam, the Japanese Doraemon, a cat dressed in blue, is "safe" to the software. But Garfield, another fictional cat, will sometimes will be filtered, because the animal is yellow -- and the software considers an image with a large area of "yellow" as pornographic.
An engineer with the MIIT who asked to remain anonymous noted several days ago the ministry had assigned some staff to repair program faults.
Ma Pengfei said: "It will take a long time before the MIIT can improve the technical level of the software."