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China's Green Dam may be ready to collapse

Lack of government funding reportedly is forcing Green Dam's Beijing development team to close shop, putting the future of the controversial software-filtering project in doubt.

The Green Dam interface
The Green Dam interface University of Michigan

China's Green Dam software-filtering project has been staying afloat without government funds for the past year, but the project may now be in danger of collapse, according to a story in Tuesday's Beijing Times as covered by BBC News.

The project was launched last year in response to demands from the Chinese government to block pornography and other Internet content considered objectionable. Beijing initially wanted the software to be installed on all computers sold in China, but it provided project funding only for the first year, from 2008 to 2009.

The lack of funding since then has forced the main project development team from Beijing Dazheng Human Language Technology Academy to close its doors. The installation and after-care team from Zhengzhou Jinhui Computer System Engineering is also looking at shutting down, the Beijing Times said, citing Chen Xiaomeng, general manager of the Human Language Technology Academy.

But there seems to be some confusion over Chen's actual response. A story from InformationWeek quotes Chen as saying: "We lack financial support. We already struggled to hold on for a year, but we can't do so any longer." However, China Daily says he has rebutted the Beijing Times story, claiming that reports of his company's closure are untrue and that it has simply stopped using its former office.

Whether Green Dam has a future or not, the project found its way into controversy even before it got off the ground. The Chinese government touted it as a way to keep pornographic computer content away from children. But concerns quickly arose that Beijing would use the software to censor political content and other topics it deemed harmful to its citizens. Objections also were voiced by the U.S. government that requiring the software could violate trade rules.

In addition, computer experts found the Green Dam software to be poorly designed and unsafe, leaving the door open for malware to easily infect PCs on which it was installed. Following the complaints, China appeared to backpedal last August, saying that it would not require the software be installed on all PCs sold in the country.

In its short life so far, Green Dam has managed to find itself installed on around 20 million PCs in China, mostly in homes, schools, and Internet cafes, according to InformationWeek.