Regulating the internet is never easy, nor popular. In 2009 Beijing ordered a web filtering software known as Green Dam Youth Escort to be installed in all new computers sold in China. The move sparked huge opposition among Chinese netizens and the plan was soon scrapped, particularly when it looked to be technically flawed.
But the term “Green Dam” passed into general usage in Chinese, soon used to refer to someone who is being censored. And this month netizens have been using it again in reference to an unlikely individual: the British prime minister.
Although Beijing abandoned one of its highest-profile attempts at internet filtering, the technique now has a new fan in the form of David Cameron. Last week, the British leader announced a filtering system to block content too, mainly of the pornographic sort. Cameron said TalkTalk – one of Britain’s largest internet service providers – had shown “great leadership” in setting up the voluntary system in a move designed to stop children being able to access explicit sites.
But a rather embarrassing leak followed his remarks. According to the BBC, the filtering system so acclaimed by Cameron is actually controlled by Huawei, a Chinese telecom equipment maker that has frequently been labelled as a security threat to Western countries (see WiC168).
UK-based employees of the Shenzhen firm are able to select which sites are blocked by TalkTalk’s censorware, the BBC said.
The revelations provided a delicious irony for Chinese netizens.
“Now David Cameron is also Green Dammed,” one weibo user wrote.
“Heh, we are finally exporting the Great Firewall of China to Great Britain,” added another.
There was even a note of pride: “Britain is several decades behind us in terms of censoring techniques,” crowed one contributor.
What exactly is the Chinese firm’s role? TalkTalk says it has integrated one of Huawei’s products into its wider home security service aimed at filtering out malware sites (malicious software coded to disrupt computers and networks). And according to the technology website ZDNet, the system is still being operated by TalkTalk, so Huawei does not “control” it per se.
TalkTalk then issued a statement explaining that Huawei has been a partner for years, as “they have been for most of the British telecommunications industry”.
Huawei has also defended its HomeSafe technology. “The system is similar to other solutions in the market and is based on keyword categorisations; URLs [web addresses] are added under instruction from the customer,” the company said, insisting that it had no ability to dictate how individual Britons use the software.
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