Former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said that although he couldn’t define pornography, he’d know it when he saw it. Was he talking about images of Garfield? How about a photo of cooked pork? Well, according to the mandatory Internet filtration software proposed by the Chinese government, both pics should be blocked because they are pornographic.
The filter, known as Green Dam-Youth Escort, was about to be required to be installed in all personal computers sold in the country, beginning July 1. However, the government has reportedly reneged on this mandate, and has postponed that deadline indefinitely. And it’s a good thing: Critics worry that the software will be used for censorship, and the program also fails to effectively block plenty of content that may concern parents. According to Reuters:
When the software is installed, and an image scanner activated, it blocks even harmless images of a film poster for cartoon cat Garfield, dishes of flesh-color cooked pork and on one search engine a close-up of film star Johnny Depp’s face. With the image filter off, even though searches with words like “nude” are blocked, a hunt for adult websites throws up links to soft and hardcore pornography sites including one with a video of full penetrative sex playing on its front page.
Green Dam has not detailed how it scans images for obscene content, but computer experts have said it likely uses color and form recognition to zoom in on potential expanses of naked flesh. Program settings allow users to chose how tightly they want images scanned. When too much skin is detected, Green Dam closes all Internet browsers with no warning, sometimes flashing up a notice that the viewer is looking at “harmful” content.
But the interpretation of obscene is apparently generous enough to include the orange hue of Garfield’s fur and, on the highest security settings, prevent viewers clicking through to any illustrated story on one English language news website.