Tech Check Digest - October 28, 2021

This week was a huge one for online regulation, with the much anticipated updates to the Privacy Act review dropping, including a specific Online Privacy Bill, the latest ACCC report on competition in search, and a private member's bill on social media defamation.


Social media giants face $10m fines for privacy breaches under proposed government reform (via Guardian Australia). Proposed reforms to the Privacy Act include up to $10m in fines for repeated privacy breaches. Other major proposals include requiring platforms to verify users' ages, and getting parental consent for children.

Submissions are open to the public to feedback on the Privacy Act review proposals (via Attorney-General's Department). This includes public submissions for an Online Privacy Bill that looks specifically at social media and online platforms.

The ACCC has released its report on competition in search engines in Australia (via ACCC). The third Digital Platforms Services Inquiry interim report found that Google's 94% search engine share is harmful to competition and consumers. One of the proposals to address this is the development of a default choice screen on smartphones that allows users the ability to choose their preferred search engine upfront.

Nationals MP Anne Webster introduced a private member's bill to make social media companies liable (via Parliament of Australia). The Bill proposes that social media companies should be liable as publishers if they don't take down allegedly defamatory material within 48 hours of receiving a notice from the eSafety Commissioner.

Pressure is growing for the government to designate Facebook under the News Media Bargaining Code (via InnovationAus). Facebook has refused to negotiate with critical publishers like SBS and The Conversation, which has ACCC Chair Rod Sims "concerned".


Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen briefs Australian MPs (via Reset Australia). After her explosive revelations, Frances Haugen has spoken to other governments globally, including in the UK, EU and Australia.


A new podcast about how the internet is "slowly breaking our brains" (via Crooked). Jon Favreau hosts candid conversations with newsmakers, political figures and artists to discuss how the internet shapes the way we live.


Australia's annual Internet Governance Forum NetThing is on early November (via NetThing). The conference themes this year are "Inclusion", "Health", "Trust", and "Environment" including a panel with our very own Director Peter Lewis, and a special Burning Platforms session.

Burning Platforms: Platforms vs. Nation-States

On this Burning Platforms we look at platforms vs. the nation-state. Platforms are acting like nation-states and governments are trying to become platforms, but are they both getting it wrong.

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Tech Check Digest - October 14, 2021

On this Tech Check we see how technology regulation and governance plays out differently depending on where you sit, as we collectively grapple with our technology-mediated world:


New resources to combat disinformation through tech lobby group slammed as woefully inadequate (via Innovation Aus). Australia's local technology lobby group DIGI announced new measures to "bolster" its weak Disinformation Code, including an oversight board made up of only three members who will meet twice a year. Both Centre for Responsible Technology and Reset Australia criticised their efforts.

Home quarantine apps spark privacy fears (via Guardian Australia). Human rights groups worry that data collected through home quarantine apps could be kept for longer than necessary and used for secondary purposes. The Centre for Responsible Technology advocate for strict limits and protections in the use of facial recognition technology for home quarantine in our related report.

Twitter releases regulatory principles for policy makers (via Twitter). As regulatory efforts continue to build globally, Twitter released a report containing principles for policy makers. It includes recommendations around algorithmic management and privacy principles but also uses the myth of the "Open Internet" in its defence against regulatory intervention.


Facebook's week from hell (via the Briefing podcast). Technology journalist David Swan recounts Facebook's recent troubles, including the high profile whistleblower Francis Haugen and their outage problems.


ACCC Chair Rod Sims launches new issue of UNSW law journal on the theme of 'Big Tech and the Law' (via UNSW). The issue explores a diverse range of topics related to the regulation of digital platforms including the inadequacy of current antitrust/merger law frameworks and copyright.

Burning Platforms: Online privacy in Australia

On Burning Platforms we take a deep dive into the legal frameworks for entrenching digital data rights into Australian law. From informed consent to data matching and security, is the traditional approach to privacy applicable to the online world? 

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A new podcast and a new look forum!

‘Tech Talk’ – the Centre for Responsible Technology’s fortnightly virtual community forum covering the latest technology news, issues and policies is taking on a new look.

We are renaming our forum to ‘Burning Platforms’ to capture the sense of urgency in our work as digital technology continues to disrupt Australia.

We are also making it available as a podcast so you can listen in anytime.

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Tech Check Digest - October 1, 2021

On the radar for Tech Check - big moves by and against Google, Amazon tries to make surveillance look cute, and more on the Wall Street Journal's excoriating exposés on Facebook:


  • The ACCC finds Google's dominance in adtech harms businesses and consumers (via ACCC). In the final report of its Digital Advertising Services Inquiry, the ACCC confirms how Google's vertical integration and market power in adtech is bad news for Australians. The ACCC is looking for broader reform and the ability to develop sector-specific regulations to address this market issue. The Centre for Responsible Technology has urged the government to enact the ACCC's recommendations.
  • Youtube announces it will block all anti-vaccine content (via SBS News). Youtube, after years of inaction on misinformation including during the pandemic, announces it will block all anti-vaccine content on its platform. With growing criticism against the tech giants and their refusal to address content harms, it appears Youtube has finally started to listen, but is it too little, too late?
  • Amazon unveiled a new robot called Astro, which tracks everything in your home (via Vice). Amazon's unapologetic strategy of surveillance gets a new face as it launches Astro - a robot "home assistant" that can set up reminders, turn on TV shows and control smart devices around your home. It can also integrate with Amazon security products like Ring to alert you of possible break-ins or fires. Leaked internal documents show how Astro "tracks everything" and developers who worked on the product described it as "flawed".




Tech Talk - algorithms that rule Australia

The Australian government is increasingly using algorithms to develop and implement policy initiatives. This has potentially large implications in how we make policy that is fair to all Australians. Of particular concern are the systemic biases and limitations in algorithms that often discriminate against minorities and vulnerable groups. Special guest experts Ed Santow, former Human Rights Commissioner and Marie Johnson, CEO of Centre for Digital Business help us explore this topic.

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Tech Check Digest - September 17, 2021

This week's Tech Check Digest feels like mostly bad news, as we see topics like bullying, surveillance and privacy abuses being covered. It's even extended to our fiction! As always, we try to push back against these digital issues and advocate for a safer, fairer and better online experience for all. 


The Wall Street Journal launches a special investigation called 'The Facebook Files' revealing damning internal documents (via WSJ). Internal Facebook documents demonstrate that Facebook knows full well the harms its platforms cause - including that Instagram is toxic for teenage girls, how a secret elite group gets exemptions and special rules, and how human traffickers and drug cartels abused the platform.

ABC anchor Leigh Sales calls out the bullying and excessive harassment she receives on Twitter (via ABC). Sales was prompted to reflect on her Twitter experience after colleague Lisa Millar decides to quit the platform. Sales recalls how she is subject to significant personal and sexist attacks on Twitter, which she believes is exacerbated by social media.

Queensland police prepare to trial AI system to identify high-risk domestic abusers (via Guardian Australia). The tool will use data from police systems to develop risk assessment analysis and predictive patterns for early intervention initiatives. Algorithmic targeting is fraught with dangers, particularly as AI systems regularly fail to account for inherited and systemic biases against certain profiles and groups (e.g. people of colour), which further reinforce those biases.

South Australia to expand use of home quarantine app using facial recognition (via InnovationAus). The home quarantine app trial aims to use regular check-ins using facial recognition for those meant to be at home to verify they are complying. This increased scope creep for COVID-related software during the pandemic highlights the dangers with lack of ethical frameworks built into initiatives. The Centre developed principles for ethical pandemic software like vaccination passports here.


Dave Eggers promotes his new dystopian novel 'The Every' in interview with Kara Swisher (via Sway podcast). Eggers' novel imagines a world in which Google and Amazon join together to form an omniscient corporate juggernaut that predicts our every move. 


UTS Vice-Chancellor's Democracy Forum explores the economics of Big Tech (via UTS). Emeritus Professor Roy Green chats to Rana Foroohar, author of Don't Be Evil: How Big Tech betrayed its founding principles and all of us.

Tech Talk - Safe and unsafe content online, OnlyFans, power and protection

This session of Tech Talk covers the complexity of content moderation online. Moderation often requires value judgements on what is safe and unsafe, appropriate and inappropriate, but this is almost never straightforward, especially when you include adult and explicit content. Special guest Professor Kath Albury from Swinburne University helps us with this discussion.

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Australia’s imperfect ruling on online comments will force the question of Facebook’s real value


Social media comments on news articles on the most popular social platforms, like Facebook and Youtube, are often a quagmire, full of the most misinformed, vile and sometimes downright idiotic views. These swamps have been allowed to fester due to the hands-off approach to content moderation by online platforms, and a media economy that prizes engagement. Now, a court ruling will force media companies to rethink their presence on sites like Facebook.

This week, Australia’s High Court has found that some of Australia’s biggest media companies could be held liable for potentially defamatory comments posted on articles they share to their Facebook pages. The High Court rejected an appeal by media companies including NewsCorp and Fairfax Media in a defamation case that alleged the companies are liable for comments about Dylan Voller, an Australian man whose mistreatment at a youth detention center when he was a teen attracted significant commentary online and sparked a royal commission.

Read more on Tech Policy Press here.