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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Hippies

Posted in #ausvotes by skepdadblog on July 22, 2010
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So here’s what’s wrong with the Greens.  A major part of their support base – enviroactivists – can’t argue dispassionately or get their message across without being confrontational and sanctimonious.  That makes the Greens look like far-left wing hippies when in fact they have some quite reasonable and well-thought-out policies.

Here’s an example of a short twitter exchange I just had.  I was responding to a GreensMPs post on Formspring, where a Green representative made the following comment:

“…nuclear is still ultimately a non-renewable fossil fuel.”

Er, no.  Ignoring the semantic error, nuclear (read uranium) is not a fossil fuel.  Would have thought the Greens would understand that.  Hence my tweet:

“@greensmps nuclear energy depends on non-renewable “fossil” fuels? Back to the science books for you. #ausvotes”

Well, Moron_Moments decided they’d jump to defend the Greens’ obvious error.

“Moron_Moments Lots of coal electricity used to enrich natural uraniuml @skepdadblog: @greensmps nuclear energy depends on non-renewable “fossil” fuels?”

Yes, lots of coal and oil energy is indeed currently used to extract and enrich uranium.  Similarly, coal and oil energy is used to extract the minerals used in all energy technologies, including wind and solar devices.  Does that make them fossil fuels too?  I felt the need to snark.

“@Moron_Moments no, lots of *energy*, which could be coal or anything else.  It doesn’t make uranium a fossil fuel.”
” @Moron_Moments Lots of fossil fuels burned to mine the minerals for solar panels too.  Or did you think they were made out of rainbows?”

Oh, well didn’t that put the cat amongst the pigeons.

“@skepdadblog: @greensmps 1 GW nuclear requires 140k SWU/yr= 336M kwh all from coal http://tinyurl.com/2f6on57”

If I read this right, that’s 336 million kilowatt hours (or 336 gigawatt hours) of coal energy to enrich enough uranium for 1 gigawatt of nuclear power?  Interesting.  Might fact check that one.  doesn’t make uranium a fossil fuel though.  And sure that energy currently comes from coal, because coal is all we currently have widespread.  It’s just energy, it could come from anywhere.

“@Moron_Moments *currently* all from coal.  Which is far less efficient than nuclear.”

Now the rest of the rhetoric torrent, none of which explains how uranium is a fossil fuel.

“@skepdadblog: Theres a reason why US enrichment  plant at Oak Ridge TN- TVA coal.”
“@skepdadblog: That’s  part of the reason why nuclear is a net negative energy source”
“@skepdadblog Solar comes from silica with no refining. .003 percent of ore is .07% U308-lots of dirt to move; lots of energy to enrich”

Sure, Moron_Moments – silica magically appears from the sky, you put it in a box and bingo, solar power.  Finally, the clincher:

“Moron_Moments Thus nuclear makes no economic or energy sense @skepdadblog: @Moron_Moments all from coal.  Which is far less efficient than nuclear.”

A non-sequitur and a misquote in one tweet.  Sorry – I don’t debate people who misquote me.  More tweets followed, dipping into ad hominem, but I’ve written this particular tweeter off as unable to have an objective debate and won’t re-engage.

Moron_Moments clearly has some knowledge of what they’re talking about.  But they waded in to my perfectly reasonable and scientific assertion that uranium is not a fossil fuel, brandishing all sorts of “facts” and ignoring the very small and logically consistent point that I was making in their eagerness to spread their rhetoric.  Bob would be wise to put a leash on these people.

Oh, and Moron_Moments – I was going to vote Green.  Nice job, hippie.

Framing, Fencing and Well-Intentioned Morons

Posted in #openinternet,#operationtitstorm by skepdadblog on February 16, 2010
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I was delighted to read this post, which gave definitions to the thoughts I had been having about the way this filter campaign is being run by the Conroy side.  Framing and Fencing.  To carefully choose language in order to reinforce a meme, and to use that reinforced meme in order to discredit an opponent ad hominem.  It’s a great post, and references another very interesting post here.  While I’m pimping links, here’s another good one from geordieguy.

It comes down to this: most people have a fairly consistent idea of Stuff That Is Bad.  Let’s make a list.

BAD STUFF

  • Porn
  • Child abuse/exploitation
  • Drugs
  • Crime
  • Bestiality
  • Sexualised Violence
  • Pedophiles
  • Terrorists
  • Censorship
  • Illegal Stuff
  • Stuff That’s Banned
  • Waste of Public Funds
  • Weird Fetishes
  • Cronyism
  • Lobbyists
  • Kids Being Exposed To Bad Stuff
  • Government Secrecy
  • Hippies

You may disagree personally on one or more of these, but it’s important to understand that the majority of Australians agree with this list.  Denial won’t help us.  Toss away your soapbox and listen up.  How is Conroy framing his argument? Choose from the above list.

CONROY’S PRO-FILTER ARGUMENTS

  • Blocking porn
  • Blocking child abuse/exploitation material
  • Blocking information about drugs
  • Blocking information about crime
  • Blocking bestiality material
  • Blocking sexualised violence
  • Blocking pedophiles
  • Blocking terrorists
  • Blocking information about illegal stuff
  • Blocking stuff that’s banned
  • Blocking weird fetish material
  • Preventing kids being exposed to bad stuff

Are these, or are they not, the core tenets of the pro-filter campaign?  Conroy plays directly to the Australian sense of stuff that is bad.  And fair enough – this stuff IS bad.  The pro- campaign is simply awash with noise about how bad stuff is bad and how the magic filter will block it and save our children.  Because of all the noise, there is simply no need to answer the following questions:

“Will the filter actually be effective at blocking all this bad stuff?”

“Will the filter and the campaign around it have any unintended bad side effects?”

Conroy also starts an undercurrent of other fallacies, such as the classic “the filter blocks bad stuff, therefore anyone opposed to the filter must like bad stuff, therefore anyone opposed to the filter is bad”.  He doesn’t tip his hand too much, as over-reaching here will damage his credibility.  Just enough to plant the seed.

So #nocleanfeed and #openinternet come along, and start to ask the important questions.  Unfortunately, #nocleanfeed is a poor meme.  We don’t want a clean feed.  We want a dirty internet.  We are dirty, and we like dirty things.  #openinternet is a much better meme.  We’re for openness.  People like openness.  We start getting heard, and reputable, influential, trustworthy folks start flocking to the cause.  Props to groups like EFA for running a mature and responsible campaign.

But then, along comes the Sex Party, and opposes the filter because they want unrestricted access to porn.  Great job guys.  Conroy must have wet himself with pleasure.  Porn is bad, remember?  You’ve just confirmed Conroy’s argument that people opposed to the filter are dirty and evil, therefore the filter is good.  Magnificent effort.

But even that gormless facepalm is nothing compared to the monumental fail that is #operationtitstorm.  I would be completely unsurprised if it turned out that Anonymous was simply a front for the Australian Christian Lobby, such was the public relations windfall their utterly moronic hack campaign gave the pro-filter argument.  Way to give the government the moral high ground guys.  Retards, please.

So now we have an uphill battle.  I contend that the only way we will have any success is if we use the same tactics as Conroy.  Facts don’t win PR wars, feelings and memes do.  We need to attack the bad stuff that Conroy doesn’t want raised:

  • Waste of Public Funds – the filter will be ineffective and take tens of millions of dollars away from effective measures to increase online safety.
  • Censorship – the filter is a censorship vehicle that can and will have its scope widened once it is made law.  Conroy doesn’t use the word censorship, because he’s afraid of that meme catching hold.
  • Government Secrecy – Conroy is unapologetic about the blacklist remaining secret.
  • Cronyism and Lobbyists – ACMA is not immune to political influence, and has carte blanche to rule out content based on a very wide definition of RC; and that is assuming that the definition of RC is not widened, which it will be.

On top of that, we need to address the unintended consequence argument.  Kids Being Exposed To Bad Stuff:

  • Government message that the net is safe = less adult supervision
  • Almost entirely ineffective filter (and Conroy has publicly admitted this) = unsafe net
  • less supervision + unsafe net = increased harm to kids

Incidentally, this is my primary opposition to the filter.  The only responsible thing for the government to do, if the filter is made law, is to immediately launch an information campaign educating Australia about how ineffective the filter is, and that the net is still unsafe and their kids are still at risk and must be supervised.  Joe Public will go “Whaaaa?  But you just said….???” but by then it will be too late.  Noticed that the “supervise your kids online because the net is dangerous” message is curiously quiet lately?

Many folks in the #openinternet movement are seeing Hungry Beast’s survey as a disaster.  I say it is disappointing, but there is plenty of gold under that rainbow.

  • 80% are in favour of a government filter that blocks RC content.  Unsurprising, as the filter blocks bad stuff.  However, that number can only go down as education about the true inefficacy and unintended side effects of the filter goes up.
  • Only 50% of respondents believe that the government or a government appointed body should decide what’s on that list.  Hit the cronyism, lobbyist and secrecy buttons to bring that number down.
  • 91% want transparency about what’s been blocked.  Can you say “secrecy is bad?”
  • 70% are concerned that the government will expand the content that is blocked after the filter is made law.  Censorship, censorship, big fat China Saudi Arabia Iran censorship.

People, these are the areas we must focus on.  This is what the country thinks is bad.  We are no different to Conroy in that we want bad stuff to be kept out of Australia; we just believe that the “cure” (or, more accurately, homeopathic remedy) is worse than the disease.

One final point on the media.  It occurs to me that the media magnates of the world have a vested interest in seeing the internet reigned in.  It siphons their stories, it puts their content into the hands of freeloaders, and it threatens to render all but the most talented journalists redundant.  Research, live vision and educated opinion are the only valuable old media assets now; they can’t any longer get away with simply re-hashing some “news” from AAP.  Is it so hard to believe that one reason #openinternet is getting so little press is because the media see a golden opportunity to shore up their old-school business model?

We in the new media world need to go beyond preaching to the converted.  You are your family’s computer guy or geek girl.  They trust you on matters tech.  Talk to them about the filter, about secrecy and lobbyists and censorship and increased harm to kids.  Then when it comes up at work, Rotary, the P&C or bowls, they’ll have an educated opinion and not just “porn bad filter good”.