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29 Jun 2009

Link: Malcolm Gladwell reviews Free by Chris Anderson: Books: The New Yorker

Counterpoint to Chris Anderson and Kevin Kelly.

17 Mar 2009

Link: Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable « Clay Shirky

"The core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem."

21 Jan 2009

Link: Blog of Wade – How the Australian Carriers Missed It

"Management just didn’t and don’t get the internet"

09 Jan 2009

A Guide : Internet Filter Action

  1. Meet with your local ALP MP or Senator.
  2. Have a conversation with them about the internet filter, ideally focusing on The Message (below).
  3. Add the meeting details in a comment – the post will be updated accordingly (please comment if you’ve already met with a politician about this issue).
  4. Spread the word, and encourage others to do the same.

The Goal

To meet with as many ALP MPs and Senators, and share the message below. If you don’t have an ALP representative, then visit a Senator for your State instead. A face-to-face meeting is highly recommended, as it’s far more effective than an email or letter, and you’re more likely to have a sensible discussion, rather than getting a form letter response. If pressed for time, a phone call may suffice, but do everything you can to speak to the politician in question, not one of their staff members.

Even if your member is already listed below as having had someone else meet with them, another meeting with another concerned citizen will help solidify the message that there are serious problems with the Government’s proposed legislation.

I recommend using the message below – obviously some peoples’ opinions will differ, and I sympathise (and agree) with the concerns of censorship and grey lines of what the filter will and will not block. However, we need to find some common ground and try to direct their attention to what we feel is a better approach.

When you have a meeting organised, please add the details in a comment below, so we all have some idea of which politicians have been met with, and which still need a visit.

Don’t forget: both houses return to Parliament in February, so try to organise a meeting before then!

The Message

The goal of the Government’s Internet Filter is laudable. We have no argument with wanting to stop child pornography, and make sure children aren’t exposed to the darker corners of the internet. The problem is with the approach: an opt-out internet filter will not work.

  • There are plenty of legal tools that route around filtering: those who want to seek out such material will be able to.
  • The filter trials have been focused on HTTP traffic, with no attention given to peer-to-peer file sharing or instant messaging.
  • Filtering BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer traffic is not feasible – an analogy is monitoring every single phone call in Australia.
  • It gives the impression the internet will now be safe for children, ignoring situations where children are groomed by pedophiles via chat rooms and social networks, and may potentially meet face to face with these people.
  • It will slow the internet down to some extent.

That doesn’t mean there are no worthwhile solutions that should be investigated, such as the following:

  • Opt-in filter for those who desire it – whether offered by ISPs or as a downloadable tool.
  • Education for parents – via TAFE courses and similar.
  • Compulsory education for children in schools on what to be aware of when using the internet.
  • Increased funding for the AFP.

The Government’s current approach is a waste of money – particularly worrying in these financially uncertain times. We encourage the Government to change their tact for making the internet safer for Australians to use, and hope they employ some of the more effective ideas as suggested above.

Representatives

(Alphabetical by Surname)

  • Dick Adams (Lyons)
  • Anthony Albanese (Grayndler)
  • Arch Bevis (Brisbane)
  • James Bidgood (Dawson)
  • Sharon Bird (Cunningham – NSW)
  • Chris Bowen (Prospect)
  • David Bradbury (Lindsay)
  • Tony Burke (Watson)
  • Mark Butler (Port Adelaide – SA)
  • Anthony Byrne (Holt)
  • Jodie Campbell (Bass)
  • Nick Champion (Wakefield)
  • Darren Cheeseman (Corangamite)
  • Jason Clare (Blaxland)
  • Julie Collins (Franklin)
  • Greg Combet (Charlton)
  • Simon Crean (Hotham)
  • Yvette D’Ath (Petrie)
  • Michael Danby (Melbourne Ports – VIC)
    • Steve Hopkins – Nothing Yet Scheduled
  • Bob Debus (Macquarie)
  • Mark Dreyfus (Isaacs)
  • Justine Elliot (Richmond)
  • Annette Ellis (Canberra – ACT)
  • Kate Ellis (Adelaide – SA)
  • Craig Emerson (Rankin)
    • Ashley Angell – Nothing Yet Scheduled
  • Laurie Ferguson (Reid)
  • Martin Ferguson (Batman – VIC)
  • Joel Fitzgibbon (Hunter)
  • Peter Garrett (Kingsford Smith – NSW)
  • Steve Georganas (Hindmarsh)
  • Jennie George (Throsby)
  • Steve Gibbons (Bendigo – VIC)
  • Julia Gillard (Lalor – VIC)
  • Gary Gray (Brand)
  • Sharon Grierson (Newcastle – NSW)
  • Alan Griffin (Bruce)
  • Damian Hale (Solomon)
  • Jill Hall (Shortland)
  • Chris Hayes (Werriwa)
  • Julia Irwin (Fowler)
  • Sharryn Jackson (Hasluck)
  • Mike Kelly (Eden-Monaro)
  • Duncan Kerr (Denison)
  • Catherine King (Ballarat – VIC)
  • Kirsten Livermore (Capricornia)
  • Jenny Macklin (Jagajaga – VIC)
  • Richard Marles (Corio)
  • Robert McClelland (Barton)
  • Maxine McKew (Bennelong – NSW)
  • Bob McMullan (Fraser)
  • Daryl Melham (Banks)
  • John Murphy (Lowe)
  • Belinda Neal (Robertson)
  • Shayne Neumann (Blair)
  • Brendan O’Connor (Gorton)
  • Julie Owens (Parramatta – NSW)
  • Melissa Parke (Fremantle – WA)
  • Graham Perrett (Moreton)
  • Tanya Plibersek (Sydney – NSW)
  • Roger Price (Chifley)
  • Brett Raguse (Forde)
  • Kerry Rea (Bonner)
  • Bernie Ripoll (Oxley)
  • Amanda Rishworth (Kingston)
  • Nicola Roxon (Gellibrand)
  • Kevin Rudd (Griffith – QLD)
  • Janelle Saffin (Page)
  • Bill Shorten (Maribyrnong – VIC)
  • Sid Sidebottom (Braddon)
  • Stephen Smith (Perth – WA)
  • Warren Snowdon (Lingiari)
  • Jon Sullivan (Longman)
  • Wayne Swan (Lilley – QLD)
  • Mike Symon (Deakin)
  • Lindsay Tanner (Melbourne – VIC)
  • Craig Thomson (Dobell)
  • Kelvin Thomson (Wills – VIC)
  • Chris Trevor (Flynn)
  • Jim Turnour (Leichhardt)
  • Maria Vamvakinou (Calwell)
  • Tony Zappia (Makin)

Senators

Australian Capital Territory

  • Kate Lundy

New South Wales

  • Mark Arbib
  • Doug Cameron
  • John Faulkner
    • Elias Bizannes – Nothing Yet Scheduled
  • Michael Forshaw
  • Steve Hutchins
  • Ursula Stephens

Northern Territory

  • Trish Crossin

Queensland

  • Mark Furner
  • Joe Ludwig
  • Jan McLucas
  • Claire Moore

South Australia

  • Don Farrell
  • Annette Hurley
  • Anne McEwen
  • Penny Wong
  • Dana Wortley

Tasmania

  • Catryna Bilyk
  • Carol Brown
  • Kerry O’Brien
  • Helen Polley
  • Nick Sherry

Victoria

  • Kim Carr
  • Jacinta Collins
  • Stephen Conroy
  • David Feeney
  • Gavin Marshall

Western Australia

  • Mark Bishop
  • Chris Evans
  • Louise Pratt
  • Glenn Sterle

Credits

This was inspired by the work of Geoff McQueen and Matthew Landauer. Originally planned as a Google Document, but that doesn’t allow editing by everyone, so this blog post will have to do.

04 Jan 2009

Revisiting Internet Filter Action

So, a bit over a year ago, as we edged closer and closer to voting John Howard out of office, Rudd’s team make the stupid election promise of an internet filter. Exactly a year ago, in anger and frustration, I sent off a letter to Stephen Conroy, the then new Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

Twelve months later, what have we learnt?

  • Conroy is slow to respond to letters.
  • Conroy isn’t particularly good at engaging in reasoned discourse.
  • Conroy is good at staying on message.
  • The internet filter is unlikely to be completely opt-out – there’ll just be two levels.
  • Question Time is a farce and lacking in intelligent discussion.
  • Those passionate about the issue have mobilised, with the EFA, GetUp, Steve Hopkins and Elias Bizannes amongst those leading the way.
  • Trials of internet filters have focused mainly on HTTP and HTTPS traffic. Not IM, peer-to-peer traffic, or newsgroups.
  • ISPs, including iiNet and Internode, are not fans of the proposed legislation
  • The Greens and Liberals aren’t supporting it either. Nick Xenephon seems to be on the fence, and unsurprisingly Stephen Fielding of Family First wants to add legal content to be blocked by the filter.
  • Conroy insists that our filter will be much like those in Sweden and Canada – yet both of those filters, according to the Government’s own feasibility study, are voluntary.
  • There is a live pilot underway.

We’ve had petitions, rallies, phone bombs, emails and letters. It doesn’t seem to be making a dint in Conroy’s plans. I think face-to-face meetings is the best way forward. If your local member is from the ALP, then meet with them. If they’re not, you will have a Senator who is. If you’re uncomfortable about going alone, find some other like-minded souls. A group may well have a larger impact.

If you’re in Melbourne, that’s where Stephen Conroy is based – I’d love to hear some feedback of anyone who has met with him. I’m currently overseas, so I haven’t got around to that yet – I’ve only managed to meet with my then-local member (I’ve since changed electorates), and it was pretty clear that I knew more about the issue than he did.

I’d also recommend not bothering with arguments relating to civil liberties, censorship or keeping legal access to pornography. While I don’t disagree that these are important and valid, it’s not going to win over anyone. Personally, I try to keep the message about how the filter isn’t going to work, just like past filters haven’t worked, and thus it’s a waste of money and time. You need to express understanding that the Government’s goal is laudable, but the approach isn’t. The ends does not justify the means.

Also have alternative plans to suggest – whether that’s recommending parents stay aware of what their children are doing online, an opt-in filter for those who want it, or something like the previous Government’s NetAlert software. (Although that wasn’t downloaded much at all – so is there really the demand for an internet filter?)

Online action is great, but it doesn’t have anything close to the effect that face-to-face communication does. If you really want to make a difference, get into those politicians’ offices.

11 Nov 2008

Filtering Trial Results

The Australian Government’s contentious ‘Clean Feed’ internet censorship proposal has got some media attention lately – and by and large, it’s been rightly critical of Senator Conroy’s plans. If you’re not familiar with it, I recommend you read my letters to Conroy and peruse nocleanfeed.com.

In the middle of last year, the previous Government commissioned a closed environment testing trial. The results of these were released recently, and the values have been used by both sides to tout the usefulness/uselessness of filters. Handily, these results are available to the public, so I’ve skimmed through the extensive PDF – although I claim no solid understanding of it all – to figure out where the figures are from.

Firstly, a few facts:

  • Six different filtering approaches were tried (with the codenames Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Theta and Omega).
  • These trials were conducted on a purpose-built network.
  • The network is similar in scale to a Tier 3 ISP.
  • The trials covered speed changes, the effectiveness of blocking blacklisted material, and the valid sites blocked incorrectly.
  • Most filters were only tested against HTTP and HTTPS traffic. Gamma and Omega were also applied to emails, and Delta skipped on HTTPS.

A full grid of numbers is at the bottom of the post, but let’s go through a few comparisons.

Speed vs Blocking

Speed vs Blocking

The speed results here are really mixed. One (Delta) doesn’t drop much at all, but two (Alpha and Gamma) are horrific. All filters manage to block at least 87% of the blacklist – but only Beta comes really close, with 98% (losing a third of the speed in the process though).

Speed vs False Positives

Speed vs False Positives

Note that the scale on the Y Axis drops a bit, but we still get another set of mixed results. None of them are perfect on the false-positives front, and the closest is Gamma on 1.3% – but that comes with severly limited speeds. And really – there are a lot of websites out there. Even 1% covers a fair chunk of the net.

Blocking vs False Positives

Blocking vs False Positives

Here there’s something of a trend, although you have to be looking for it: better blocking effectiveness means a higher number of false positives. That’s not good, people.

Takeaways?

There’s really not that much to work off here, no matter what side of the fence you’re on. The main things to keep in mind are:

  • None of the solutions are perfect.
  • All had issues with false-positives
  • This was done on something approaching a Tier 3 ISP – will the performance speeds decrease if we applied these filters on a Tier 1 or 2 ISP? My money’s on yes.
  • It wasn’t Conroy who commissioned this study, so it can’t be pinned against him.
  • Delta, which is arguably the only viable filter judging by performance, still missed 9% of the blacklisted sites.
  • None of the filters were tested against newsgroups, IM, or peer-to-peer traffic. I’d imagine HTTP/HTTPS filters are relatively easy, so expecting the same performance and effectiveness for other protocols sounds like a pipe dream to me.

Raw Numbers

  Performance Effectiveness
Filter PPI API CPI BRI OBI
Alpha 92% 16% 17% 90% 2.6%
Beta 99% 67% 68% 98% 7.5%
Gamma 98% 14% 14% 87% 1.3%
Delta 99% 98% 100% 91% 2.4%
Theta 78% 76% 99% 95% 7.8%
Omega 101% 79% 78% 94% 2.9%

Glossary of sorts: PPI (Passive Performance Index) is the relative speed when a filter is attached but not running. API (Active Performance Index) is the relative speed when the filter is running. CPI (Change In Performance Index) is API when using PPI as the reference point (instead of uninhibited network speeds). BRI (Blocking Rate Index) is the percentage of blacklisted sites stopped, and OBI (Overblocking Index) is the percentage of friendly sites overzealously blocked.

16 Jul 2008

Correspondance on Censorship

About six months ago, I sent a letter to the Australian Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (yes, that’s a mouthful), Stephen Conroy, raising some concerns with the ISP filtering the Government was proposing.

A few weeks ago, I received a response. It’s overly long, filled with spin and cruft, but hey, that’s better than nothing. There’s still some questions unanswered though, and new ones raised, so here’s my response to the good senator. Fingers crossed for a faster reply.

 

To the Honourable Stephen Conroy,

Thank you for your letter dated 26 June 2008, replying to my own concerns sent to your office in January. I appreciate the extensive details on the current Government’s plans for cyber-safety, although I feel a couple of my concerns weren’t addressed. Namely:

  • The reasoning behind using an opt-out filter instead of an opt-in filter;
  • Acknowledgement that this filter will slow down the internet in Australia; and
  • Confirmation that it is the ACMA, not the Government, that determines what sites are filtered.

Secondly, I have some questions from what you outlined in your letter:

  • Who decides the participants in the Consultative Working Group and Youth Advisory Group?
  • What defines success and/or failure for the ISP filtering pilot?
  • Was there consultation with the industry about the feasibility of the filtering? Or is that consultation limited to how best to implement it?

Again, thank you for your response, and I look forward to the continuation of this discussion.

Kind regards,

Patrick Allan

05 Apr 2008

Link: Edge: BETTER THAN FREE By Kevin Kelly

"In the digital arena, generative qualities add value to free copies, and therefore are something that can be sold."

15 Jan 2008

Link: With friends like these ... Tom Hodgkinson on the politics of the people behind Facebook | Technology | The Guardian

Sounds a bit conspiracy-ish, but still, just another reason or two to steer clear of facebook.

13 Jan 2008

Link: [AusNOG] Happy new year / New rules forage-restricted internetand mobile content after the 20th ofjanuary 2008

"The many responses to Government enquiries, Senate Select Committees and newspaper letters to the editor from Industry, civil libertarians, technologists and concerned citizens should, after all this time, make it patently obvious to even the most uninfo

04 Jan 2008

Internet Censorship in Australia

The news about the Government’s plan for an opt-out internet filter has got me pretty incensed, so, for the first time in far too long, I’m sending a letter. Yeah, a proper, printed letter, in an envelope. Apparently that raises the odds that I’ll get a response, but these are politicians we’re dealing with, so I have my doubts.

The main target is Senator Stephen Conroy, but I’ll also be posting off copies to my local member, Kelvin Thomson, and the Chair of the ACMA, Chris Chapman. I was inspired by the EFA’s media release (are you a member of the EFA yet?).

Thanks to those who have provided feedback and discussion points – particularly Anthony Richardson and Jayne. Hopefully what I’ve written below will spur others into action.


To the Honourable Stephen Conroy,

With the recent announcement of the Rudd Government’s plans for a mandatory internet filter, there’s been some discussion in the media, but I have a few concerns that I’d appeciate being addressed.

Firstly, the opt-out nature of the filter. Making the filter opt-out is, I feel, implying the Government of this country doesn’t trust it’s citizens. Will people who request to opt out of the service have their details recorded? Why couldn’t this be an opt-in filter?

And who decides what gets filtered? The Government? Or an independent organisation? Each lobby group and political party will have their own opinions about what should and shouldn’t be blocked by the filter. I’m sure “Who watches the watchers?” is a quote you’ve already heard in regards to this issue, but that doesn’t detract from its relevancy.

Thirdly, the issue of speed. This filter will make browsing the internet slower for Australians – even for those who opt out. Every single request for every part of a web page will have to be checked, first to see if the user requesting the content has opted out, and then if they haven’t, to see if the content requested is censored. Of course, that’s if you’ve got a list of filtered content. If you have some system that determines whether content should be filtered as it’s requested, that’ll definitely be slower.

Let’s keep in mind the fact that Australian broadband is lagging behind the rest of the developed world as it is. Also, the same speed issues will apply even if you have an opt-in service.

Beyond the issues listed above, I also have some skepticism that this filter will be particularly effective. Let’s not forget the how easily the previous Government’s attempt was hacked. And it won’t stop people watching child pornography – they’ll just opt-out of the service. That kind of material is not really a problem for children either – it’s not something they’ll stumble upon.

The (relatively short) history of the internet has shown that it treats censorship as failure, and will route around it (to paraphase John Gilmore). From my questions and concerns above, I think it’s clear that I feel this Government’s (well-meaning) attempt to filter the internet is not only another barrier in the way of decent internet speeds and open content, but also a waste of time and effort.

I look forward to a response to the questions I’ve raised. I would definitely be happy to discuss all this with you in person.

Kind Regards,

Patrick Allan

07 Nov 2007

Link: Basement.org: Enough With The Lists

"The result is the de-valuation of information"

02 Nov 2007

Link: [AusNOG] The Elephant in the Room

"Who is going to wear any increase in the cost of delivering the same service 'via the node'? ... The customer?"

26 Oct 2007

Link: WorldChanging: Tools, Models and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future: Kiva vs. MicroPlace - What's the Difference?

"The big difference between MicroPlace and Kiva...is that loans will be securitized (and therefore potentially trade-able), and lenders will earn interest."

16 Oct 2007

Link: hyperpeople » Mob Rules (The Law of Fives)

“The net regards hierarchy as a failure, and routes around it.”

16 Oct 2007

Insight on Gen Y voters

I caught the last half of SBS’ Insight tonight, which was focused on Generation-Y voters in the marginal Queensland electorate of Moreton, currently held by the Liberal Party’s Gary Hardgrave. While some of it felt pointless and bland, there were a few points from the parts I saw that grabbed my attention.

Labor – Still Clueless about the Internet

Graham Perret, the Labor candidate, was present on the show, and I caught the tail end of him talking about how Labor was using the Internet. He spoke about how it was another way to get their message out to the voters – and that’s precisely the wrong way to approach it. While newspapers, radio and TV are largely broadcast media, the Internet is far more democratised, and far better suited to engaging people and getting proper dialog happening.

This is what irritates me about politicians (particularly John Howard) using Youtube – they treat it very much as just another way to get the press release out. GetUp is making use of Youtube in a much more conversational way – there’s no reports yet on the site about how Sunday’s forum proceeded though.

People want Politicians to be Humans

There was a researcher on the show – I didn’t catch her name – who had studied Generation-Y, and (if I am remembering correctly) was talking about how all voters – not just the younger ones – want politicians to be funny and human. To be honest and approachable. To stop with the spin. To really connect with people.

Okay, maybe I’m riffing off her ideas into my own, but I think the feeling was pretty similar. I wish ideas like this would get more airplay – perhaps the politicians might actually take it on board.

Beyond the Show

On Insight’s web site, they have a temporary forum for discussion about the show. I made a few comments myself, but from a technological perspective, it’s really not an effective way to encourage discourse. You also get the trolls – even with the moderators vetting each post – just like everywhere else, which is a shame.

Of course, it’s tough to get people in a frame of mind where they’re open to other ideas, instead of just ramming their own down other people’s throats.

19 Sep 2007

Link: Free data sharing is here to stay | Technology | Guardian Unlimited

"Like a bottled water company, we compete with free by supplying a superior service, not by eliminating the competition."

24 Aug 2006

Link: Details on our CSS changes for IE7

23 Aug 2006

Link: Downloads boost The Chaser's viral appeal

02 May 2006

Link: Creating Passionate Users: The myth of "keeping up"

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About Freelancing Gods

Freelancing Gods is written by , who works on the web as a web developer in Melbourne, Australia, specialising in Ruby on Rails.

In case you're wondering what the likely content here will be about (besides code), keep in mind that Pat is passionate about the internet, music, politics, comedy, bringing people together, and making a difference. And pancakes.

His ego isn't as bad as you may think. Honest.

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