The software would allow the government to update computers with a regularly updated list of banned websites.
The rules were issued last month in a government directive. Details of the new regulations were posted Monday on a government website and were first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
This is the latest move in the ongoing crackdown on Internet content in China, which started in January.
“This is a very bad thing,” said Charles Mok, chairman of the Hong Kong chapter of the Internet Society, an international advisory group on Internet standards. “It’s like downloading spyware onto your computer, but the government is the spy.”
The government-mandated software, called “Green Dam” — which reflects slogans describing a smut-free Internet as “green” — is designed to filter out sexually explicit images and words. According to computer experts, the software also could be directed to block all manner of content or allow the government to monitor Internet use and collect personal information.
Although the directive is somewhat imprecise, it uses the word “pre-install” repeatedly and unequivocally states: “Imported computers shall pre-install the latest available version of the ‘Green Dam’ software before they are sold in China.”
More than 40 million personal computers were sold last year in China, and industry analysts expect that figure to rise by 3 percent this year.