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Live Issue… Green Dam Glitches Leave China’s Advertisers Guessing — Media

The Chinese Government’s edict ordering computer makers to pre-install censorship software onto their devices generated plenty of column inches around the world.

Should media owners and advertisers be worried? At the moment, the key issue appears to be the reliability of the system.

The Green Dam, or Youth Escort, programme, affects computers sold to mainland consumers. Its goal is to decrease the ‘undesirable’ content circulating around the web, specifically pornography. Using image-recognition technology, the software is supposed to block unsavoury material.

From that perspective, there is little for the media and marketing community to fear – as William Bao Bean, partner at Softbank China, points out, most operators are already used to censorship restrictions in China. “In general, advertisers are trying to sell products, and in their bid to sell those products their campaigns very rarely fall foul of the Chinese regulators.”

However, some early trials of the software should give advertisers pause for thought. Some blogs in China have picked up on anomalies within the software – an ad for a movie starring cartoon cat Garfield is among the blocked images. There have also been reports of images of pigs being vetoed.

Kane Gao, a public relations executive in China, says that in his experience using Green Dam he found that flesh-tone colours are picked up by the censors, and so images ranging from Hello Kitty to piglets have the potential to be blocked. On the other hand, nude photos of African models were easily accessible, he says.

“It’s only going to hinder advertisers if it starts picking out images that it thinks are objectionable,” adds a Beijing-based PR source.

These glitches may be ironed out in due course, but some in China’s media industry fear the added controls could affect some media owners. The move has implications for video-sharing websites in particular. The top sites have been vigilant about self-censoring their content, but there s a fear the software could still act unpredictably toward these sites, threatening relationships with audiences, content providers and ultimately advertisers.

“It does affect the sector quite a bit because it makes video sites think harder about their content providers. It also makes the video providers think harder about what might happen on these sites,” says one insider at a Chinese video site.

However, the probability of this software being widely used is still slim. Analyst at Maverick China Research Dave Carini points out that only branded computers are required to pre-install the programme, but customers buying their computers outside China will avoid it. So will the countless buyers of unbranded machines.

“It’s up in the air as to whether this software will end up inadvertently blocking access from legitimate Chinese business sites like Alibaba or Taobao. If it does, that is something that would quite easily ignite Chinese consumers and make them passionate about the topic,” Carini adds. “If there are innocent wholesalers being affected by this then this whole process will end up being re-examined.”

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