It’s easy to be cynical about the Morrison government’s new anti-trolling laws but, despite much hype and hyperbole, any attempt to increase accountability of the big social media corporations deserves serious analysis.
Under the proposal, social media companies would be forced to identify users who are engaged in so-called trolling subject to defamation claims; with the platform itself liable if it can’t – or won’t – identify the user.
Should they become law, these would be significant shifts in the way these global advertising monopolies operate, repudiating the fiction they are merely neutral “platforms” allowing the free exchange of information.
Read the full article on Guardian Australia here.
The year started with Facebook withdrawing Australians’ access to domestic violence and weather services in order to pressure our elected government to abandon plans to force it to compensate media companies for the journalism that drives its news feed. More recently, a whistleblower exposed how Facebook’s leadership turns a blind eye to evidence that its products sow global division and are particularly damaging to teenage girls.
It was Facebook’s tobacco industry moment. It prompted a corporate rebrand and the launch of Project Amplify, a steady flow of pro-Facebook stories in users’ newsfeeds. A Pravda-like assertion of power by the digital state.
To their credit, governments around the world are trying to tame the digital platforms. Measures increasing online safety and enhancing citizen privacy are currently working their way through our Federal Parliament. But let’s face it: a global private corporation is an untenable custodian of our digital civic space. We need to do better than outsourcing our civic life.
There is an alternative. We could build on the trust and reach of our national broadcaster to wrest back control of our connections, to create a civic platform – as opposed to a social media platform – to make sense of the world, anchor ourselves to facts, mediate our differences.
Read the full article on the Sydney Morning Herald here.
Western democracy has always been anchored by the idea of a public space where people gather to share ideas, mediate difference and make sense of the world. When Facebook blocked Australian users from viewing or sharing news in 2021, it sounded the alarm worldwide on our growing reliance on global tech companies to fulfil this critical role in a digital world. Facebook's hostile act, constituting a very real threat to participatory democracy, was a direct response to government attempts to regulate Big Tech's advertising monopoly and to mediate its impact on public interest journalism.
The conflict sparked a new sense of urgency around the growing movement to imagine alternative digital spaces that operate in the public interest rather than simply for a commercial bottom line. Can we create sustainable media models to help us tackle society's problems? Can we engender a civic platform built on facts and civility? Can we control the power of our data and use it to promote the common good?
This Tech Check Digest is heavy with government announcements, speeches and declarations around technology:
Morrison's critical tech announcement barely holds any substance (via ZDnet). Prime Minister Scott Morrisson unveiled a new Blueprint for Critical Technologies during an event with a similar namesake run by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The blueprint describes developments on future focused technologies including artificial intelligence applications for defence, quantum computing and a new Australia-India centre for excellence. But the announcement has been criticised as substanceless and adding to Morrison's collection of pamphleteering, including the recent documents around Australia's net-zero emissions plans.
Assistant Shadow Minister for Communications and Cyber Security Tim Watts pushes for democratic vision of the internet (via Tim Watts). Speaking at the Asia Cyber Conference 2021, Watts delivers a speech titled 'A Challenge for Democracy: A new approach to technology policy'. The speech advocates for a free and open internet, citing Joe Biden's remarks on a "battle" between democratic nations and autocracy in technology policy.
Digital Economy Minister Jane Hume declares cryptocurrency "not a fad" (via InnovationAus). Senator Hume backed the growth potential of decentralised finance, just days after the Reserve Bank of Australia had questioned its validity and warned against “fads”. Senator Hume slammed the notion that cryptocurrencies are a “fad”, and said Australia should “forge our own trail” in the sector.
Australian tycoon Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest to help Australian small publishers negotiate with Google and Facebook (via Reuters). The Minderoo Foundation applied to the ACCC for collective bargaining on behalf of 18 small publishers to negotiate with Google and Facebook. This comes after Facebook refused to negotiate with SBS and The Conversation as part of the News Media Bargaining Code.
Recordings from The Sydney Dialogue event (via ASPI), including a panel with Nobel laureate and journalist Maria Ressa, who called for a "radical rethink" approach to Big Tech.
New podcast STEAM from journalist Rae Johnston (via NITV). STEAM looks at science and technology from an Indigenous perspective including a chat with the CEO of Indigilab, who advocates for Indigenous Science.
Faceprint: uses and misuses of facial recognition technology (via UTS). The UTS Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion hosts a panel to discuss the implications of biometric and facial recognition technology, including human rights lawyers, NSW Police and civil society representatives.
Last week, Google announced something big and shiny for Australia — a commitment to provide $1 billion into Australia’s digital future, including a new research centre looking at pivotal topics like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and climate technology. Google is good at big and shiny. So much so that we conveniently, measuredly, ignore its transgressions. We want to believe that the big and shiny company is good and is doing good things for our future...
...But it’s important that we ask questions about the influence Google will have on this new research centre and its outputs, and we don’t need to look far to see how Google treats academics and lines of inquiry that it doesn’t like.
Read the full article on ABC Online here.
Google's data hungry practices are in the spotlight - with live inquiries on its anti-competitive behaviour in advertising, its monopoly in search and reviews of data collection practices. DuckDuckGo shows an alternative way - that you can do business without the surveillance.
Full disclosure: DuckDuckGo supports the Centre for Responsible Technology as part of their 2021 donation round. However, the Centre supported DuckDuckGo prior to this and we have made our position clear against Google and its monopolistic and data extractive practices.Read more
The ALP pledges anti-scam centres and further social media crackdown (via ALP). The ALP has announced a National Anti-Scam Centre to protect Australians from online scams including fake cryptocurrency and investment scams and tough new industry codes for social media platforms to protect consumers.
Clearview AI breaches Australians' privacy (via OAIC). The Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner has determined that Clearview AI breached Australians' privacy by scraping biometric information from the web. The determination orders Clearview AI to stop collecting facial images and biometrics in Australia, and to destroy existing images captured.
Facebook may have to be legally forced into small publisher deals (via SMH). After refusing to negotiate with SBS, The Conversation and other small publishers, Senator Andrew Bragg has said that Facebook should be designated under the News Media Bargaining Code, forcing them to enter negotiations or risk fines of up to 10 percent of their Australian revenue.
Google loses antitrust appeal against 2.4 billion euro fine (via Bloomberg). The EU's General Court found that Google breached competition rules and favoured its own services over competitors.
Study from Australian National University found that young people need more protection online (via Canberra Times). The study cited young people exposed to "explicit and disturbing content" and harmful targeting, urging Australia to catch up with European and UK online safety initiatives.
Jon Favreau and Peter Hamby on how social media has changed journalism (via Crooked Media). Topics include how the internet has transformed media businesses and what a sustainable model for journalism might look like.
Why the metaverse must be stopped (via Tech Won't Save Us). Paris Marx talks to author Brian Merchant on Zuckerberg's plan for the metaverse, what's wrong with it and why Silicon Valley is desperate to make it happen.
The Sydney Dialogue annual summit for emerging, critical and cyber technologies (via ASPI). The summit will bring together key players in tech including Nobel laureate Maria Ressa and Facebook Corporate Affairs boss Nick Clegg.
The metaverse – a complete virtual world that promises to be the next phase of the web is not a new concept. It’s entered pop culture in many examples which most will be familiar with – like the dystopia of the leather and PVC clad hacker anarchists from 1999’s ‘Matrix’, or the more recent uber gamer fan flick ‘Ready Player One’ in 2011.
Zuckerberg was first enamored by the idea as a teenager, through the 1992 science fiction novel ‘Snow Crash’. For a time, the novel was required reading for early Facebook employees...
...Many are quick to point out that Facebook reputationally, is currently facing its lowest ebb yet – with whistleblower Francis Haugen revealing a trove of internal documents confirming that Facebook knew it was causing harm to teenagers, ignored issues with drug cartels and human trafficking, and spread vaccine conspiracy theories.
This follows a constant stream of scandals as Facebook steadfastly refuses to address the many issues in its toxic ecosystem. The new metaverse announcement conveniently, willfully ignores all of this.
Read the full article on InnovationAus here.
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.