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China Loses Web Filter Battle

Green Dam, the company behind the controversial mandate to install filtering software on every computer in China, has closed its Beijing office and is running out of money.

The shuttering of the Beijing office behind a plan to install web filtering software on all computers sold domestically shows that the controversial project is going out with a whimper.

The company behind Green Dam Youth Escort project had grand plans for the software, hoping to install it on just about every PC in China with the ostensible goal of protecting youth from "impure" Internet content, i.e., pornography.

It had received backing from the powerful IT regulator, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). But resistance from the PC industry, including Lenovo, amid concern of Big Brother-esque interference eventually short-circuited the plan, but not before the software had been installed on 20 million computers.

Now the company is teetering on bankruptcy. Beijing operations have ceased, but one other development team still remains.

Launched in May 2008, the filtering software was provided free to users but PC firms had to pay for a one-year license from MIIT, which had paid out $6.15 million for development of the software. Beijing Dazheng Language and Knowledge Processing Research Center and Zhengzhou Jinhui Computer System and Engineering were behind the creation of the software. Media reports said Dazheng's Beijing headquarters was locked during normal work hours last Friday and all furniture had been removed.

The firm's general manager, Chen Xiaomeng, confirmed that the company's operations closed late last month. "We lack financial support. We already struggled to hold on for a year, but we can't do so any longer," he said.

The Chinese government calls Green Dam a porn-blocking device, but it also blocks sites the government deems politically disagreeable. Researchers have also found Green Dam makes computers more susceptible to malware. The companies had also come under fire for allegedly stealing code from other software filtering programs.

The government had planned to require that all computers sold in the country be pre-installed with the software starting last July. But in the face of protests from computer manufacturers and governments worldwide, and domestic Internet users, the Chinese government decided to delay the implementation.

Most of the existing 20 million Green Dam customers are families, schools, and Internet cafes.

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