China Syndrome: Corporate America's Tepid Response to Green Dam

Now that it's safe to do so, a technology industry group has oh-so-nicely asked the Chinese government to reconsider its requirement to include censorware known as Green Dam with all new PCs sold in that country. It's always heartening to see big, rich tech companies standing up to an authoritarian regime on behalf of free speech.

If that actually happens, I'll feel like we're making progress. But this is just after-the-fact window dressing.

The letter, signed by 19 trade groups, was sent only after the Chinese government, relenting to pressure from its own people, announced that use of the Green Dam software would be optional where earlier it would have been mandatory.

If the software is truly optional, there really is no need for the tech companies to do anything, unless, of course, they had enough guts to actually criticize the Chinese.

The closest the letter comes to anything likely to upset Beijing was a statement that the plan "raises significant questions of security, privacy, system reliability, the free flow of information and user choice," according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.

Makes you proud to be an American, right?

There was a time when the American government would have renounced such a censorship scheme and businesses would have followed suit. Today, with China holding so much U.S. debt, not to mention being a fast-growing market for computer products, the corporate world has little stomach for upsetting a good customer--even if it’s a totalitarian regime that actively blocks access to information it deems unsuitable for its citizens.

Besides blocking the Internet, China is one of the few countries that still engages in the jamming of foreign radio broadcasts, including from the U.S. and its allies.

Well before this tepid sign of conscience on the part of the industry, a U.S. company has sent cease-and-desist orders to Dell and HP, claiming that their distribution of the Green Dam software would violate its copyright on portions of the Chinese software. Solid Oak Software claims the Chinese government stole parts of its parental control software for use in the controversial application.

At least Solid Oak is actually doing something to stop the software, which is something Dell, HP, et al, should have done on their own.

Some readers may wonder why American businesses should care about what the Chinese government does to its own people. I would point to the role business had in ending South African apartheid as an example of how companies, working together, can affect important social changes. Corporations are not merely impersonal entities with no obligations beyond profit and increasing shareholder value. They are collections of people, and they represent the values of those who do the company's work. If we value freedom, so should our businesses.

David Coursey supports human rights worldwide. He tweets as techinciter and can be e-mailed using the form at www.coursey.com/contact.

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