Call it the "Great Cave-in of China" as the Beijing government today delayed a requirement for controversial Green Dam censorship software to be installed on all machines sold in that country.
Assailed from all sides, including its own citizens, the Chinese government left the door open for reimposing the requirement, originally set for July 1, but didn’t say when that might occur.
The announcement was made by the state-run Xinhua news agency.
The 'Green Dam-Youth Escort" software is supposed to censor pornography--which many consider a laudable goal--but also blocks politically sensitive material and appears to allow monitoring of user activities by authorities.
China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) was quoted as saying the delay was necessary because "some computer producers said such a massive installation demanded extra time."
While this story is likely far from over, it's taken a good turn. China is finding out that once you open the door to capitalism people start behaving differently, sometimes better and sometimes worse, but always more freely than before. And once they've tasted this freedom, they demand more of it.
American companies and the global community were slow to respond to the Chinese challenge, but they eventually did respond and their efforts, too, seemed to have some effect. Whatever the politics, it appears China can be dealt with on a business-to-business basis and, like all good companies, is not immune to customer and vendor criticism.
Speaking of which, the company that created the software, Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co., has reportedly been the target of death threats and harassing calls from both China and abroad.
"Most of the calls came at late night, cursing our staff and uttering obscenities, voicing their resentment against the software," Zhang Chenmin, the company's general manager told Xinhua.
"I got a call last night, threatening to kill my child and my wife," Zhang said.
He also told Xinhua that the company's website has been continuously under hacker attack, which has seriously affected the company's customer service.
"We are now under great pressure and our company has been at a critical moment," Zhang said. "I never expected the software to have brought us so many troubles. Our aim is simply to protect children from Internet pornography."
I hate to seem naïve, but I actually feel for the guy, though how the censorship and monitoring features got into the software he didn't explain.
Overall, this is a good day for freedom a good day for China, too. A requirement that the software be installed and made operational on all new PCs was first relaxed and became merely an installation requirement. Now, even that requirement is gone.
The Chinese government says the software will be available free for downloading, though its mandatory installation in Internet cafes remains a reason for concern.
As to what happens next, no one knows. I don't think this is the end of Green Dam, but I think China has learned something and we've learned something about China.