In a last-minute move, the government said last night that it will delay the mandatory installation of the controversial "Green Dam-Youth Escort" filtering software on new computers that was scheduled to start today.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), which oversees the software installation, told Xinhua News Agency that the delay came after "some computer producers said such a massive installation demanded extra time".
It did not set a date for when the order to install the software would come into force.
But the ministry will continue to provide free downloads of the software and equip school and Internet bar computers with it, said a spokesman for MIIT.
The ministry reiterated yesterday that the software is designed to block violence and pornographic content on the Internet to protect minors but users have repeatedly raised concerns about invasion of privacy.
"I would certainly not like such a program installed on my new PC," said a 30-year-old art researcher, as he scrolled through the news item published by major news portal Sina.com last night at an Internet bar in Beijing's Chaoyang district.
"I assume the move is a result of mounting pressure in recent days," he added, without revealing his real name.
In the interview with Xinhua, the MIIT defended the filtering software as "an act for public good" and said it "conforms to WTO rules".
The ministry held some foreign media and groups responsible for "untrue reports" about the software, which they described it as "spyware" that hinders freedom of online access.
The ministry also said that if any copyright dispute were to arise, the issue would be dealt with according to the law.
California-based Solid Oak claims the Green Dam has ripped off its CyberSitter software and it has threatened action in China.
Neither of the two developers of the filter - which cost the government 41.7 million yuan ($6 million) - was available for comment Tuesday night.
Domestic and overseas PC makers have voiced concern about the short notice given to them for the software installation as well as security loopholes which could be exploited by hackers.
Manufacturers in China including Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Sony did not respond immediately to the MIIT decision.
Chinese maker Lenovo said last night it has "not been informed on the issue".
Sony has reportedly begun shipping personal computers equipped with Green Dam which include a disclaimer that the company is not responsible for damage from the software.
"The delay is not a surprise. Web users in China have been calling for it all along," said Lu Benfu, director of the Internet Development Research Center affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Lu said there might be three reasons behind the MITT's "second thoughts".
One is the filter software's technical loopholes had not been plugged; the bid process for the software was not transparent enough; and the online community has been concerned with privacy and legal rights.
"The product itself is not mature," said Fang Binxing, a well-known Internet expert.
"So, now should be the time for trials, not mandatory installation and wide use of it There is no need for the authorities to take extreme action."
The president of the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications suggested that authorities work with the developers to decide the best option for the filtering software.
Public hearings should be held to determine the rights of the citizens, said Lu.
Last week, US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the software rule may violate World Trade Organization regulations.
Yesterday in Beijing, the European Chamber of Commerce said the software mandate "poses significant questions in relation to security, privacy, system reliability, the free flow of information and user choice".
Some Chinese web users had called for a boycott of all online activities today, before the announcement of the installation delay.