The Public Square Project: Reimagining Our Digital Future

A new book from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology, published by MUP and released today, The Public Square Project: Reimagining Our Digital Future explores a new blueprint for a more democratic digital space, and re-examines 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.

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Too Early to Celebrate Google’s Australian Cash Splash

Today’s announcement by Google of a $200 million per year technology fund is a great headline, but it is important to look behind the big numbers.

Key Details:

  • Google pays less than one per cent tax on annual earnings of about $5 billion. Simply paying tax on Australian earnings would deliver far more money to Australia
  • It is important to understand how Google will influence the research this money funds; if it simply embeds Google deeper into government, business and community it will only serve as a form of Business Development rather than genuine social investment
  • We need to be mindful that Google is currently facing proposals to regulate Google’s advertising monopoly and end the anti-competitive deals that see it as the default search engine on mobile phones. 

“When big tech offers to put money into a nation there are always strings attached,” said Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

“While investment in understanding the impact of technology is critical, it is also vital this includes critical analysis of the global corporations that dominate so much of our online lives.”

Facial Recognition for Home Quarantine is a Recipe for Privacy Disaster

State governments trialling home quarantine need to take active steps to ensure they are not crossing a new frontier in the surveillance of citizens by using Facial Recognition Technology, warns the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

This follows reports that in several states police have accessed COVID check-in data to undertake routine law enforcement activities. The privacy breaches from check-in apps already show that state governments must regain the public’s trust before trialling even more complex surveillance technologies, like facial recognition.

With South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria conducting trials of home quarantine apps using facial recognition, and Western Australia already doing it, new research by the Centre for Responsible Technology shows strict limits and controls are needed to protect the public.

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Facebook Should Face Royal Commission into its Online Harms

The Australia Institute's Centre for Responsibility Technology has backed Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce's proposal for a high-level review of the public health impacts of Facebook's business model, calling for a Royal Commission into the company's impact on Australian users.

Evidence from an internal whistleblower to the US Senate this week has exposed how Facebook's leadership has ignored evidence of the harms caused to users by its product including:

  • damage to teenage girls caused by Instagram usage
  • coordinated disinformation and misinformation supporting despots and drug cartels around the globe
  • newsfeed algorithms demonstrated to drive anger and division.

"The revelations to a US Senate committee this week position Facebook alongside the tobacco industry and James Hardie in their willful blindness to the health impacts of their products in the pursuit of increasing profits,” said Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

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Government Must Now Act on ACCC Call to Regulate Google’s Advertising Power

The Federal Government should move urgently to implement the recommendations of a new ACCC report into the monopoly dominance of Google in the advertising.

The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology said understanding and regulating the hidden power of Google to collect and combine user data from multiple sources was a critical piece in addressing the broader issues of Big Tech power.

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Facebook Flies in Face of Bargaining Code, Rebuffing SBS & The Conversation

The federal government should move to bring Facebook under its News Media Bargaining Code, after the global tech giant refused to strike deals with significant media outlets.

Both SBS and The Conversation have been told that Facebook will not be recognising the value of their journalism on their platform, with many other smaller outlets still without a deal.

“This decision flies in the face of the Code’s core proposition, that Facebook was an advertising monopoly that should be required to compensate public interest journalism for their content bought to their platforms,” said Peter Lewis, Director of the Centre for Responsible Technology.

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Calls for government to regulate dangerous social media influencers

New research from The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology has revealed how little oversight there is in the social media ‘influencer’ industry.

The report identifies the double-standards between the rules for traditional advertisers and individuals who leverage their personal networks to promote brands on social media.

“Social media influencers are profiting while spreading misinformation and shoddy advice online” says Jordan Guiao, Research Fellow from The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

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Privacy concerns cast shadow over vaccination passports

The lack of a clear blueprint for vaccination ‘passports’ that addresses public concerns around safety and security risks is undermining the implementation of vaccine mandates, warns the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

"We have learned over past 20 years, the unintended long-term consequences from deploying technology in a time of crisis. After 9/11 government radically shifted notions of online privacy to address the terror threat, directly building the model of routine surveillance of our online behaviour for commercial ends,” said Peter Lewis, director of the Centre for Responsible Technology.

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Limits Needed on Amazon’s Ability to Reach into our Contact Books

The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology is calling for increased data protection for online consumers, with concerns about the vast amount of information routinely being harvested from user accounts.

The Centre singles out Amazon’s privacy terms, which in full are over 3,000 words long with many ambiguous terms and multiple links for further definitions, stating the expansive privacy terms capture unnecessary information including: email addresses from a users’ contact list, device location, content playlists and Wi-Fi credentials.

“The scope of Amazon’s data collection demands greater scrutiny,” said Peter Lewis, director of The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

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Majority of Australians Support Limits on Artificial Intelligence and Facial Recognition Technology in Australia.

The key measures in the Australian Human Rights Commission ‘Human Rights and Technology’ report released Thursday are strongly endorsed by the Australian public, according to new research.

A poll of 1,100 Australians conducted by Essential Research for the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology finds majority support for the key measures recommended in the report:

Key findings:

  • Majority of Australians (55%) support a pause on Facial Recognition Technology in Australia until safeguards are in place, only 15% oppose
  • Vast majority of Australians (62%) support requiring a human to have oversight and accountability for all automated government decisions, only 12% oppose
  • Six in ten Australians (60%) require all artificial intelligence to comply with anti-discrimination laws in Australia, 13 per cent oppose
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