PLAY THINGS: Beijing’s latest censorship tool

The Chinese government is using the snooping revelations as the perfect excuse to impose its own operating system on desktops across the country


The China Operating System (COS) will be released in October this year.
The China Operating System (COS) will be released in October this year.

China’s attempt at making a desktop operating system seems to have succeeded. The China Operating System (COS) as it is called, will be released in October this year. This will coincide with Chinese National Day celebrations in the first week of October, marking the anniversary of Mao Zedong’s founding of the People’s Republic, back in1949.

Chinese Academy of Engineering has said that the new OS would be first seen on desktop PCs and later expanded to smartphones. The academy’s Institute of Software has been developing COS, on the direction of the people in power. (Read report here)

It is interesting to note that the Chinese government doesn’t allow official PCs to use Microsoft’s latest OS, Windows 8. Government PCs will become the first user base for COS. Beijing is also investigating Microsoft for its business practices and for “monopoly actions” relating to its Windows and Office software. And Beijing has not been very nice with Apple and Google as well, alleging that their phones were a threat to China’s national security.

With the COS in place, the Chinese government is looking to eliminate all “foreign” operating systems, running on smart devices, within its territorial borders. The government justifies this move by pointing to the Snowden and NSA cyber-spying revelations, and pushes the case for its own software for national security reasons.

This is certainly not the first attempt by Beijing to control the content users can access. Referred to as The Great Firewall, government agencies regularly block international websites, and monitor web traffic. Users are randomly redirected to search engines that none of us have even heard of.

China’s Ministry of Public Security sanctioned the Project Golden Shield, a massive online database for every individual in the country. The project will cost around US$800 million. In October 2001, Greg Walton of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development published a report, and said “Old style censorship is being replaced with a massive, ubiquitous architecture of surveillance: the Golden Shield. Ultimately, the aim is to integrate a gigantic online database with an all-encompassing surveillance network – incorporating speech and face recognition, closed-circuit footage, smart cards, credit records, and Internet surveillance technologies.” (Read report here)

Golden Shield Project implementation got underway in 2003, and is work in progress.

There was also the Green Dam project, though now defunct, which made it mandatory to install separate software on all PCs, to filter information.

The COS deployment will make it easier to identify, block and filter content, right from the user’s PC itself – root level monitoring. This will additionally help the nationwide Internet monitoring infrastructure, making the government’s job easier.

It is still not clear whether it will be mandatory for PC makers to preload every new desktop or laptop with COS initially, but eventually, that is how it will be. No one really knows when and what level of force will be exerted on the general public to switch to China’s operating system.

There will be bigger problems when it comes to the smartphone version. What happens to the Chinese smartphone makers who use Android for their phones? Will COS’s mobile really be able to match Android and iOS, in terms of functionality? What happens to the country’s smartphone imports? Will Chinese residents be able to buy and use the next iPhone? These are pertinent questions, which will only be answered once Beijing’s COS policy becomes clear.

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