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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Media, Gaming And Corporate Giants Speak Out Against Aussie Internet Filter, by Greg Tingle - 24th March 2010

Not to anyone's real surprise, many tech giants and major Australian and global brands are starting to speak out loudly against the Australia's government's proposed internet filter, censorship, and blacklist on the side.

It's apparent that this Labor government initiative is already costing Australia further international damage and even embarrassment.

It needs to be noted that many of the world's leading entertainment and technology brands are moving into gaming and igaming, both with games of skill and games of chance. These brands that are pro active in the igaming space include but are not limited to Google, Yahoo, Marvel Entertainment, DC Comics, Sony Pictures, FremantleMedia, Sega, Infinity Ward, Paramount Pictures, and you get the idea.

Hollywood and Aussiewood is promoting entertainment themed games whist at the same time the Labor government is bringing in an internet filter.

Many journalists and analysts are asking some tough questions of the government, many of which are yet to be answered.

Media Man wants to know what does policy being at "arms length" from the government really mean, and how do Australians know it won't be open to corruption?

The Rudd government has gone on public record that they don't like pokies, gambling or porn, so how does a punter know that a government appointed rep won't let their personal beliefs sway their decision on whether a gaming or igaming company gets a red or green light?

The internet affiliate industry is keenly watching the situation as many media companies like Media Man participate in dozens of affiliate programs, some of which cover gaming - gambling - igaming, some don't. Virgin Games has gone on record with the term "grey area", and who decides what is "grey"? Probably lawyers who will get to make up policy and law as they go along. The poor judges and juries who are going to likely get dragged into the legal complications.

We foresee company and website owners shopping around for web hosts who will provide ISP services to those who don't want to be dictated to by the Australian government, following in the footsteps of China, Iran and Iraq. This could provide and excellent opportunity for internet giant, Google, to provide web hosting services for gaming and adult entertainment, even political commentary websites! This will help fill the void for Google, as they are pulling out of China as this news goes to press.

Media Man is advising punters (and adult entertainment connoisseurs) to enjoy their "vice" while they can. Play for free or play for money, as in the future they may not be able to play at all! For the record we're totally against kiddy porn, bestiality and pro racist websites. We are pro gaming and igaming (with suitable consumer protection). We're also pro media freedom of the press.

igaming legal and censorship discussion dominated much of the iGaming Business Down Under conference held at Sydney's Star City Casino earlier today. A number of legal eagles were in attendance, including a couple of official legal advisers to us.

*Greg Tingle is a special contributor for Gambling911

*Media Man is primarily a media, publicity and internet portal development company, igaming being just one of dozens of industry verticals covered.

An excellent article by Fairfax Media's Asher Moses below, who has been covering the internet filter and blacklist story for close to 2 years.

Conroy's internet censorship agenda slammed by tech giants, by Asher Moses - 23rd March 2010

Australia's biggest technology companies, communications academics and many lobby groups have delivered a withering critique of the government's plans to censor the internet.

The government today published most of the 174 submissions it received relating to improving the transparency and accountability measures of its internet filtering policy.

Legislation to force ISPs to implement the policy is expected to be introduced within weeks. The filters will block a blacklist of "refused classification" websites for all Australians on a mandatory basis.

Most of the submissions called for full transparency surrounding the operation of the list and for all sites placed on the list by bureaucrats at the Australian Communications and Media Authority first to be examined by the Classification Board.

They supported a regular review of the list by an independent expert and the ability for blacklisted sites to appeal.

But many reiterated their concerns that the policy is fundamentally unsound and would do little to make the internet a safer place for children. Many said the scope of blocked content was too broad and would render legitimate sites inaccessible, while the process of adding sites to the blacklist could be subject to abuse by bureaucrats and politicians.

Google, which today officially stopped censoring search results in China, said it had held discussions with users and parents around Australia and "the strong view from parents was that the government's proposal goes too far and would take away their freedom of choice around what information they and their children can access".

Google also said implementing mandatory filtering across Australia's millions of internet users could "negatively impact user access speeds", while filtering material from high-volume sites such as Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter "appears not to be technologically possible as it would have such a serious impact on internet access".

"We have a number of other concerns, including that filtering may give a false sense of security to parents, it could damage Australia's international reputation and it can be easily circumvented," Google wrote.

The search giant said it was preferable instead to focus on improving education around cyber safety and providing tools that people could install on their home computers to block unwanted content.

Many of Google's concerns are mirrored by many of the other submissions by academics, technology companies, industry groups, lobby groups and ISPs.

Microsoft demanded protection against "arbitrary executive decision making" surrounding content added to the list and noted the potential for banned material to be loaded on to a site without the sanction of the owner of that site.

Yahoo and Google's submissions, along with many others, expressed concerns that the scope of content to be filtered was too broad.

"Yahoo are entirely supportive of any effort to make the internet a safer place for children, however mandatory filtering of all RC material could block content with a strong social, political and/or educational value," Yahoo's submission read.

It listed some examples of innocuous sites that could be blocked including:

- Safe injecting and other harm minimisation websites.

- Euthanasia discussion forums.

- A video on creating graffiti art.

- Anti-abortion websites.

- Gay and lesbian forums that discuss sexual experiences.

- Explorations of the geo-political causes of terrorism where specific terrorist organisations and propaganda are cited as reference material.

Yahoo also pointed to a recent paper that provided "several examples where knee jerk regulatory reactions to 'controversial' content have been entirely out of step with broader public opinion".

The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations fears sites that are valuable to sexual health promotion might be placed on the blacklist.

"Social research has shown that information, 'chat' and even pornographic sites play an important role in providing information about sexuality and sexual health, particularly for men who have sex with men and same-sex attracted young people," it wrote.

Mark McLelland, an associate professor in the sociology program at the University of Wollongong, said the filters could block access to an entire genre of niche but popular Japanese animated fiction.

Even the Australian Christian Lobby, one of the biggest supporters of the internet filtering plan, said inadvertently adding innocuous content to the blacklist would "undermine the entire policy".

Telstra fears the blacklist of banned sites could be leaked - as has already occurred last year - and "could be used as a directory of harmful content, which would therefore become more easily available to users that are able to circumvent the ISP filter or who are located overseas".

Colin Jacobs, spokesman for online users' lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia, said it was clear from the submissions that the vast majority have a difficult time stomaching the filter at all.

"Many of the submissions stated flat out that the filter was not needed," he said.

"Most of the rest held their noses and tried to come up with a way this inherently secret process could be made more transparent." (Credit: Fairfax Media)

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