When Playing Victim, Cybersitter Shoots Itself in Foot with Green Dam Controversy

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The legal battle between Cybersitter and the Green Dam Youth Escort program, originally mandated to be installed on all computers in China, ...

The legal battle between Cybersitter and the Green Dam Youth Escort program, originally mandated to be installed on all computers in China, provides interesting lessons on playing victim and how to do it properly.

By Karn G. Bulsuk

 

The BBC reported that Cybersitter, a US company, was in the process of suing the Chinese government for $2.2bn over 3,000 lines of allegedly stolen code used in their Green Dam Youth Escort program.

The program was supposed to have been pre-installed in all computers sold in China since July 2009 to stop people from looking at offensive or pornographic websites.

A University of Michigan study also claimed that the program was ineffective and full of security vulnerabilities, in which computers with the software installed could easily be hijacked to become part of a botnet, or a series of zombie computers controlled by others to engage in malicious activities.

At first glance, the lawsuit in question doesn’t reflect very well on the American company. The average news report only informs people that code has been stolen, and that serious security vulnerabilities are present in Green Dam. The company itself propagates the view that the program has practically been stolen from under them, and states that it is the victim of “one of the largest cases of software piracy in history.” (wired.com)

The problem is that the serious security vulnerabilities are due to “unsafe and outdated programming practices” (wired.com) on the side of the Green Dam makers, rather than the Cybersitter side. In fact, the 3,000 lines that were stolen were blacklists which specifies websites which are to be blocked.

Without such clarification, the average Joe may believe that Green Dam is a close copy of Cybersitter. The implication there is that Cybersitter and Green Dam are virtually the same program which both contain dangerous security vulnerabilities, resulting in a negative image of Cybersitter’s products.

It’s good to be able play victim and elicit sympathy, but Cybersitter needs to make sure it doesn’t end up shooting itself in the foot.

***

Green Dam Girl

Green Dam was not rolled out on the massive scale as was intended, partially due to the massive backlash from the Chinese internet community.

One of their tools was the creation of a Japanese manga style-character named Green Dam Girl (绿坝娘), to mock the program and its aims. Chinese blogger Hecaitou says that the character carries a rabbit to represent Green Dam’s mascot. She also wears a police cap with a crab badge, which is a pun on the Chinese word “harmonious” which is a way Chinese internet users mock internet censorship, and a bucket of paint to wipe out online filth.

I think many missed the irony of using a Japanese cartoon character in this campaign given the traditional and sometimes violent animosity between China and Japan.

***
Updates

13 July 2010
The BBC reported that Green Dam had stopped receiving funding from the Chinese government, and the development team had closed.

18 February 2011
PC World reported a lawsuit filed by the makers of Cybersitter against the Chinese government would be allowed to proceed.

Sources 

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Karn G. Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead: When Playing Victim, Cybersitter Shoots Itself in Foot with Green Dam Controversy
When Playing Victim, Cybersitter Shoots Itself in Foot with Green Dam Controversy
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Karn G. Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead
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