The government of China has had developed its own version of Linux – dubbed “Red Flag Linux” – and is requiring Chinese Internet cafe owners to replace their current Internet cafe operating systems with the Chinese Red Flag Linux.
According to Chinese officials, the move is to help combat piracy – the Internet cafes in China nearly universally run using Windows – primarily Windows XP. And originally Internet cafes were required to either prove a license for the Windows they were running, or switch to Red Flag Linux. But increasingly, officials are forcing Internet cafe owners to switch to Red Flag even if they have a legal copy of Windows. And of course there is a fee involved – 5,000 yuan (about $725 USD) – while a legitimate copy of Windows would cost an Internet cafe operator in China the equivalent of only $135.00 USD.
Said an official with the Nanchang Cultural Discipline Team, “We have already started installing the new software in all Internet cafes. All of them must have this new one.”
“Our district cultural management authorities came and installed the new Red Flag Linux in all of our 13 Internet cafes,” confirmed one Internet cafe worker. “It happened around Nov. 20, and we all paid the 5,000 yuan installation fee, even though we used to use legally purchased Windows XP. But I don’t think this new system is as good as the old one.”
That depends, of course, on your definition of “good”. If your intent is to serve up a decent Internet cafe experience for your customers, perhaps. But if your intent is to find yet another way to spy on your citizens, then a state-sponsored operating system makes a great deal of sense.
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Now, perhaps the reason behind requiring Red Flag Linux really is to combat piracy. Or it could be because the Chinese Ministry of Information is a major investor in Red Flag Linux.
According to Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California-Berkeley, “It mainly means [a] less secure and private communication environment for netizens in those Internet cafes.” Qiang added that “The authorities are gaining more control…. By forcing all Internet cafes to change operating systems, the authorities are making them register…and therefore all kinds of policing and surveillance software will be installed at all these large and small Internet cafes as well.”
Summed up another Chinese Internet cafe owner, “Every Internet cafe has to install the new software though none of us wants it. There’s no other choice. We’ve been facing a number of new charges. Not long ago, the police asked us to install personal ID scanners for 3,800 yuan (U.S. $550). Now we’re charged for this new software. We don’t know what we will be charged for next. So I wouldn’t pay, and I’m closing my business.”
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