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
On this week's Tech Check, both new players and old continue with the battle for online governance:
A new peak body representing the Australian tech sector is launched. (via InnovationAus). The Tech Council of Australia represents local technology companies and joins the technology policy and advocacy landscape. Led by Tesla Chair Robyn Denholm its members include Atlassian, Canva and Afterpay. While local tech voices are welcome the Council is likely to advocate for deregulation and market-driven initiatives, in an environment where the lack of tech regulation has already caused significant issues.
The ACCC considers regulating Google and Apple to boost app store competition. (via Guardian). ACCC Chair Rod Sims argues that "upfront rules and regulations" may be required to force the tech giants to open up their app stores to stronger competition. A report released as part of the inquiry revealed that Google and Apple faced very little competition, and that their current control was stifling competition.
Australia's eSafety Commissioner begins consultation process on potential age verification system. (via eSafety). The consultation will inform a roadmap due to be presented to the Government in 2022 and will align with updates to Australia’s restricted access system (RAS) declaration, which has been helping to protect Australian children from exposure to inappropriate content since 2007.
The documentary that mainstreamed social media issues of the day "Social Dilemma" will be available free on Youtube until September 30. Catch it while you can, and try not to get radicalised within Youtube in the process...
An interview with one of the leading voices in today's tech policy debate Roger McNamee. (via Tech Policy Press) Listen to Roger's take on today's current tech landscape and how to hold tech accountable.
The 2021 NetThing conference hosted by the Australian Internet Governance Forum will be held online on November. This year's themes are Health, Education, Trust and Inclusion. More details on their website.
We've checked this week's most interesting articles, events and watchables in the world of tech! On this digest, acquisitions, artificial intelligence and venture capitalists are on the agenda:
One of Australia's most popular fintech companies Afterpay to be bought by Square (owned by Jack Dorsey of Twitter fame) via Guardian. In one of the biggest tech acquisitions in Australia, Square will acquire buy-now-pay-later company Afterpay for A$39 billion. Many tech industry contemporaries have applauded the transaction, demonstrating that homegrown startups can compete with Silicon Valley's best, while others have criticised the move as another entrenching of foreign-owned multinationals dominating the tech scene.
AI can now be recognised as an inventor after historic Australian court decision via ABC News. Setting a groundbreaking precedent, an Australian court has decided that AI systems can be legally recognised as an inventor in patent applications. This raises implications for the agency and rights of AI vs. the humans that created them, and adds to the complexity of the already scantily regulated and ethically complicated world of machine learning and AI development.
Almost none of the world's largest venture capitalist (VC) firms have adequate human rights policies in place (via Amnesty International). In the first comprehensive look at the human rights responsibilities of VCs, a new report by Amnesty found that only one firm of the 50 surveyed had human rights due diligence processes in place. This is significant given the decisive role that VCs have in shaping and investing in technological products and the future of technology.
Kate Crawford: Atlas of AI discussion (via University of Sydney). Dr. Kate Crawford, one of the world's foremost scholars on the social and political implications of artificial intelligence discusses her latest book and its findings.
How does AI work? (via ABC Radio National Nightlife). Genevieve Bell (Director of the School of Cybernetics and 3A Institute at ANU) joins Nightlife hosts Philip Clark to discuss AI and what it holds for us.
Partnering with robots - how to reframe the coming robot revolution (via UNSW Centre for Ideas). Kate Darling, MIT Media Lab's resident expert in robot ethics joins AI professor Toby Walsh to unpack some of the biggest questions about our robot-filled future.
Tech Check collates the most interesting articles, podcasts and webinars in the world of tech, so you don't have to. In this edition:
Someone finally used location data to track and publicly harrass a person, and there are implications for the inevitable weaponisation of app data (via Vice). For years tech companies defended the collection of location data because "it's anonymised and unidentified". But now that's been proven wrong, as a Substack publication used location data tied to a Grindr account to trace the movements of a priest, and then outed him publicly without his consent. This highlights the urgent need for more data protections and purpose limitations on data collection.
Australia joins international partners in attribution of malicious cyber activity to China (via Office of the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women). Australia joined 30 nations including the United States and Japan in calling out China's Ministry of State Security for hacking Microsoft Exchange software. Australia has reminded China on its G20 commitments of refraining from cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets and confidential information.
Outgoing Human Rights Commissioner Ed Santow will lead a new 'responsible technology' initiative within the University of Technology, Sydney (via InnovationAus). Santow, who we spoke to last month to help launch his report 'Human Rights and Technology', will build on his work with AI and spearhead the initiative to develop Australia's strategic capabilities in AI and other emerging technology.
Head of WhatsApp speaks to ASPI for a webinar on safety, security and privacy (via ASPI). It's rare for the head of WhatsApp to speak directly to the public. Given recent consumer backlashes over its privacy policies and numerous scams which continue to be active, this appears to be part of a deliberate effort to build more trust with consumers.
An investigation inside TikTok's highly secretive algorithm (via WSJ). A Wall Street Journal special investigation reveals that TikTok needs only one piece of information to figure out what you want to see most, as every hover, hesitation or rewatch inside the app is tracked to figure out your behaviour.
Labor presses for national ransomware strategy, mandatory reporting of ransom payments via ABC Radio. Labor says that the government needs a national ransomware strategy if it's serious about protecting Australia against cyber attacks, including the recent Chinese hack using Microsoft. Labor cyber spokesman Tim Watts says ransomware attacks cost Australia $1 billion a year.
"On July 20, Jeff Bezos is going to space. Bezos’s space venture Blue Origin has chosen the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing to mark his historic space initiative. He’ll be joined by his brother, the teenage son of a Dutch private equity firm boss, and aerospace pioneer Wally Funk.
The venture marks the beginning of a new space tourism race between other tech billionaires that have space-faring ambitions — including maverick entrepreneur Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson. In fact, Branson beat Bezos to the punch, launching a successful space flight through Virgin Galactic earlier this week.
While many of us battle through the COVID-19 pandemic — some are struggling with mental health issues during lockdown, others fear falling sick due to the unavailability of vaccines, and still others worry over the number of businesses that are collapsing around us — these audacious tech CEOs treat space like their private playground where they can galivant and leave their ailing planet behind."
Read the full article on the ABC here.
Peter Lewis reflects on why fans took to social media to hurl racial abuse on English football players who missed key penalty shots for the Euro 2020 final:
"If I were to stand on the hill at my local football ground and hurl racist abuse at players after they missed a vital goal there would rightly be real-world consequences.
If a fellow fan or player reported me, I would be ejected from the ground and given a long-term ban on my membership. I would be banished from my flock.
If the player I had verbally attacked chose to lodge a complaint, I could be subject to a racial vilification complaint to the Australian Humans Rights Commission. In NSW I would also be liable to criminal prosecution for a hate crime if it were deemed to be inciting violence.
But these measures would be likely unnecessary because the idea of shouting out such obscenity is so far outside the social norms of modern society that I would be unlikely to even consider this as a response to my disappointment.
The reason that thousands of shattered English soccer fans felt entitled to take to social media with racist slurs against their own players this week was that on social media this sort of emotion-fuelled discourse is the norm."
Read the full article on the Sydney Morning Herald here.