SkepDad


Censorship of Mobile Apps and Games

Posted in #openinternet by skepdadblog on August 16, 2010
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The ALP has decided to tighten the noose on mobile content.  The current state of play is that mobile games and apps are effectively exempt from content rating, which applies to movies, commercial games, physically distributed print media and music; and the ALP just can’t let that stand.

Insisting that every game or app provider wishing to make content available to Australians must submit their app to ACMA (incurring a hefty fee in the process) is pretty shortsighted, given the huge numbers, the budgets involved and the inconsistency of applying these rules to mobile downloads only.

Perhaps the architects of this policy have never heard of the internet.  Because anyone who has used the internet for more than five minutes knows that there are huge numbers of things, free and otherwise, that can be downloaded for local consumption – whether that be for mobile or more traditional PC/Mac/*nix platforms – and just as much consumable directly in a browser.  Look at Facebook apps/games as just one example.  How can the ALP decide to regulate the iPhone Lightsaber app, but not Farmville?  Android games, but not Flash games?  What about podcasts?  What about playing Truth or Fail on YouTube?

The policymakers need to understand that media is shifting away from high-budget boxed product (cinema movies, DVDs, CDs, boxed games) to more agile models where budgets are often tiny and prices are often zero.  Content is often provided for no commercial gain, but purely for the thrill of producing something that others might enjoy.  The Internet is essentially unregulatable (despite the ALP’s best efforts) and any attempt to regulate or censor it is always going to be full of fail.  If it’s not sold in a box in a store, or distributed in a physical Australian venue, or broadcast on a regulated tv spectrum, content rating cannot be pragmatically enforced by Australian beaurocrats no matter how many Family First preferences depend on it.

Don’t get me wrong – I agree with parental advisories and content rating.  They are a useful guideline for those parents who actually bother to take an interest in what their kids are consuming.  They are a different thing however to censorship, which I have covered in detail on this blog and elsewhere; and they are subject to the laws of reality and the tyrannies of scale.

Whether you are a strident pro-censorship protectionist buffoon, a passionate anti-regulation liberal anarchist, or anywhere along the line between, you simply can’t deny that the pure volume of content and the cost models involved preclude individual centralised proactive classification.

The only model that can work is one where content vendors have incentive to adhere to voluntary content advisories, and this is backed up by a complaints-based mechanism of review.  By engaging with industry (a foreign concept to the autocrats in the ALP, I know) the Government can negotiate in the interests of children and consumers without wasting time and money on blinkered, piecemeal and unrealistic white elephants.

ACMA has a future as a watchdog, to be let off the chain where breaches of classification guidelines are reported.  It does not have one as a bouncer, separating consumers and content until a protectionist burden of proof is satisfied.

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Lies, damned lies and Conroy

Posted in #openinternet by skepdadblog on April 8, 2010
Tags: , , ,

It is a colorless and odorless chemical compound. Its basis is the highly reactive hydroxyl radical, a species shown to mutate DNA, denature proteins, disrupt cell membranes, and chemically alter critical neurotransmitters. The atomic components are found in a number of caustic, explosive and poisonous compounds such as Sulfuric Acid, Nitroglycerine and Ethyl Alcohol.

It is a constituent of many known toxic substances, diseases and disease-causing agents, environmental hazards and can be lethal to humans in quantities as small as a thimbleful.  In gaseous form, it can cause severe burns.

Each year, it is a known causative component in many thousands of deaths and is a major contributor to millions upon millions of dollars in damage to property and the environment.

86% of people surveyed support banning this substance, dihydrogen monoxide.  Do you?

Congratulations, you just banned water.  (With thanks to DHMO.org)

And that, my friends, is the problem with polls.

The Punch has run a couple of articles on the blackwall in the past two days; the first from Conroy himself and the latest from the journalist/apologist/polemicist (I can’t decide which) Paul Colgan waggling his finger at the predictably incensed response to Conroy’s missive.

Colgan’s point is that the outrage of the blogosphere is counterproductive and unrepresentative of wider public opinion, as represented by polling.  I won’t argue with the first point, as some of the commentary was definitely out of order; but that’s what you get when you open the floor to the general public.  It’s a little naive to expect anything different.

The second point is argued in such an idiotic fashion as to make me wonder how this chap presumably earns a living as a “serious journalist”.  Polling can be designed to give any answer you’re looking for, the results being useful only in the precise context in which they’re asked.  Furthermore, as the H2O example above demonstrates (and has been experimentally verified) people can easily be influenced with the right choice of language.

Quoting Coglan’s piece:

“What the debate almost entirely failed to reflect was the overwhelming popularity of Conroy’s plan with the general public.  A recent poll put support for mandatory government filtering of child abuse material at 80 per cent.”

The actual poll result was this:

80% of people said they were in favour of “having a mandatory Government Internet filter that would automatically block all access in Australia, to overseas websites containing material that is Refused Classification”. Survey participants were first read a definition of ‘Refused Classification’ as follows:

Images and information about one or more of the following:

–    child sexual abuse
–    bestiality
–    sexual violence
–    gratuitous, exploitative or offensive sexual fetishes; and
–    detailed instructions on or promotion of crime, violence or use of illegal drugs

Where do I start.  Firstly, the above definition is not even close to a comprehensive definition of RC, nor does it go into how things are added to the list or who controls it.  It’s too detailed to repost here, but you can find out from this page at ACMA.  Suffice to say that the points above are the most alarmist of the many areas that RC touches, and thus to most likely to engender revulsion in a respondent.  Furthermore all these, with the possible exception of fetishes, are illegal but RC encompasses much which is totally legal to possess and purchase.

Secondly: even if the respondents were fully aware of what RC encompassed, they were not asked if they supported “Conroy’s plan”.  They were asked if they “were in favour of having a mandatory Government Internet filter that would automatically block all access in Australia, to overseas websites containing … RC … material”.  Even if you accept that the respondents understood the full impact of those words, in the short time they had to absorb them,  Conroy’s plan is much wider reaching than just this.

The question that the respondents really had to deal with, given the cognitive processes involved with processing such complex aural information, would have been closer to this: “Should the Government block websites that have evil illegal stuff on them?” I’m surprised only 80% answered affirmatively.  But that’s not the same thing as supporting “Conroy’s plan” Mr Coglan.

For a journalist with such faith in polls, it’s surprising (or perhaps not, given the post’s blinkered tone) that Coglan didn’t reference the other results in the same poll.

Despite clear support for the filter, far fewer people (50%) were in favour of “a Government appointed body determining whether a website is appropriate for you to visit”.

and:

an overwhelming 91% of people were in favour of “the community being advised which websites have been Refused Classification and the reason why they have been refused classification”.

and:

70% of Australians are concerned that “future Governments could use Internet Filtering technology to restrict free speech or block other forms of website content they don’t approve of”.

and many more.   But we don’t talk about those polls, do we.  Run the same poll again, but put the first question last.  Different result?

Conroy states that he welcomes debate, but his actions say a very different thing.  Educated opposition is either downplayed (in the case of the US Government) or attacked (Google and EFA) in exactly the same histronic manner which Coglan bemoans.

There will be no debate, ignorance is Conroy’s ally in this issue.  When people and organisations learn the details, they oppose it.  The misdirection and half-truths will continue until it becomes an election issue, or until Rudd comes up with a diversion.

I will vote on this issue, and I know many others who will also.