U.S. asks China to drop censoring software requirement for PCs

Trade representative, Commerce Sec. in a letter to Chinese Ministry of Commerce say the requirement may violate World Trade Organization rules.

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
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Updated at 2:20 p.m. PDT with comments from HP and Lenovo.

The U.S. Trade Representative has written a letter to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce asking that the country drop its requirement that all new PCs sold in China have special filtering software installed.

The letter was sent Tuesday by Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, and expressed concern that the Green Dam-Youth Escort software required to be in all new PCs by July 1 violates World Trade Organization rules.

The Green Dam software is intended to keep children from accessing pornography online, according to the Chinese government, but the U.S., along with some technology companies perceive the requirement as further attempts at censorship as well as a trade barrier.

"China is putting companies in an untenable position by requiring them, with virtually no public notice, to pre-install software that appears to have broad-based censorship implications and network security issues," Locke said in a statement.

In the same statement, Kirk said, "Protecting children from inappropriate content is a legitimate objective, but this is an inappropriate means and is likely to have a broader scope. Mandating technically flawed Green Dam software and denying manufacturers and consumers freedom to select filtering software is an unnecessary and unjustified means to achieve that objective, and poses a serious barrier to trade."

U.S.-based trade associations representing the personal computer industry have already voiced their objections to the Green Dam policy. Dell, which has been ramping up its business in China over the last year, says it has made no decision yet about whether it will comply.

"Along with the rest of the industry, and relevant trade associations, we are reviewing the policy initiative and are working with government officials and others to understand its application," said company spokesperson Jess Blackburn.

Hewlett-Packard, the world's largest manufacturer of PCs, is also taking a wait-and-see approach. "HP is working closely with the trade industry association, ITI, to seek additional information, clarify open questions, and monitor developments on this matter," said a company representative.

Lenovo, the world's fourth-largest PC maker, which is based in China, also said it is still figuring out a plan, but hinted it might be prepared to comply with the Chinese policy.

"We are closely monitoring developments," a company representative said in an e-mail. "Lenovo sells in over 160 countries and in so doing we obey the law and abide by local regulations wherever we do business, and we will continue to do so."