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.
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?Read more
‘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.Read more
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".
- UTS hosts author of 'Don't Be Evil: How Big Tech betrayed its founding principles and all of us' (via UTS). As part of The University of Technology Sydney's Democracy Forum, emeritus professor Roy Green chats to author Rana Foroohar about the economics of Big Tech and its importance in the future of democracy around the world.
- The latest report from Wall Street Journal's 'Facebook Files' reveals the company's aggressive plans to get children onto the platform (via Gimlet). Reporter Georgia Wells discusses what Facebook's leaked documents show about the company's years-long efforts to study and design products for kids, ahead of a Senate hearing against Facebook.
- An Ethical Future? Questioning the ecological and social implications of AI (via Monash University). Monash hosts a webinar with leading academics discussing the broader implications of AI for the world's ecological and political systems, and society in general.
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.Read more
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.
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.Read more
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.
This week on the world of tech:
We combed through Amazon's 3,000+ word Privacy Notice and were shocked at all the data they collect (via Daily Telegraph - paywalled). As part of the Centre for Responsible Technology's submission to the ACCC's online marketplaces inquiry, we looked at Amazon's unnecessary and excessive data harvesting practices, and found that they ask for things like email addresses from your contact lists, exact location of your computer and device, playlists and even your WiFi credentials. Why? Because they're a data company, not just an e-commerce company. Our submission calls for purpose limitations (collecting data only for the specific reason the consumer intended) to combat this.
Amazon Flex delivery drivers worry for their jobs on a daily basis as they struggle to meet Amazon's harrowing deadlines and work conditions (via ABC). Amazon's brutal conditions for warehouse and logistics workers are well-known overseas, but Australians may not know that it is happening here as well. Amazon Flex drivers in Australia report living in fear and reveal inhumane working conditions.
Amnesty International calls for a ban on online surveillance advertising (via Amnesty International). Amnesty gathered together dozens of digital rights groups in Europe, including Avaaz and The Real Facebook Oversight Board to call for a ban on surveillance profit models online. The campaign urges government to step in an dismantle Google and Facebook's harmful business model.
The digital revolution in schools (via UTS). Digital access is changing the way we educate young people, but unequal distribution of that access has exposed a crushing divide in our education system. In this session, Minister Sarah Mitchell, Mikaela Jade, Leslie Loble, Murray Kitteringham and Verity Firth discuss the role of technology in Australian education.
Tech Policy Press podcast featuring Cindy Gallop and Carissa Veliz (via Tech Policy Press). Cindy Gallop discusses the struggle of the sex industry amidst growing desires to moderate content online, and Carissa Veliz discusses her new book 'Privacy is Power, Why and How you should take back control of your data'.
Former Human Rights Commissioner Ed Santow starts new role as Industry Professor - Responsible Technology (via UTS). Ed Santow will discuss ethical AI in his new role, joined by Mikaela Jade, Founder and CEO, Indigital and Distinguished Professor Fang Chen, UTS Executive Director of Data Science