June 12, 2009
The New York Times Editorial
China’s Computer Folly
China has accomplished remarkable things in the past 20 years, including building one of the world’s largest economies. Computers helped speed that development — and will be even more important in the future. So Beijing’s decision to require that all new personal computers sold in China contain software that bars access to certain Internet content seems particularly self-destructive and foolish.
The new rules say all PCs sold in China after June 30 must include special software — designed by a company with links to China’s military and security agencies — to filter out pornography and other “vulgar” material. Beijing claims that it is trying to protect children. Don’t believe it.
In any country, such vague terms would be a frightening license for government intrusion. China’s government, which fears the free flow of ideas, already vigorously restricts Internet content, including blocking access to Web sites on Tibet, human rights and other politically sensitive subjects.
Chinese bloggers, dissidents and even some state news media outlets are right to worry that the new software could be used even more nefariously: to collect personal data and spy on consumer Web habits.
The contract for the software, meanwhile, was awarded without industry input. There are serious questions about whether the product will even work.
The last thing China needs is to force the installation of software that could cause millions of computers to crash. That would feed new resentment against a government already accused of gross incompetence after thousands of children died in the collapse of shoddily constructed schools in the 2008 earthquake.
International manufacturers probably could force the government to reverse the new rules by threatening not to sell their products. But they have no history of standing up to Beijing. We hope they are making a stronger case in private for a rollback than was apparent in the anemic public statement issued by a coalition of American trade associations. They called for “an open and healthy dialogue” with the government but seemed to go along with the farcical claim that its intention really was to improve parental control.
If Beijing does not reconsider its foolhardy decision, the new rules would take effect on July 1. Our advice to Chinese consumers: Buy your PC now.
Cartoon in courtesy of greywolf.critter.net