Have your say on the internet filter: it’s delayed but not forgotten

Sorry, this is really for Australian readers only: a large number of Australian media sites are running a common poll on the proposed internet filter. Sure, it’s a very simple question, and there’ll no doubt be some debate over its wording, but it really has one intention: to get a idea of wider community perceptions of the issue. The majority of the tech community are arguably against the filter, but it goes without saying that’s a specialised cohort of people.

So if you have an opinion, or have family / friends to whom tech primarily means the microwave they heat their cup of tea up in, then put in your two cents worth.

Click on the poll image above or go here to have your say.

China’s virtual currency regulation and Conroy’s filter

I had the pleasure of having a chat to Radio Australia’s Ryan Egan for the 20th episode of the Tech Stream podcast. We spoke in some detail about the Chinese Government’s ban on using virtual currencies to purchase real world goods, as well as the recent flare-up in concerns around the impact of the Federal Government’s internet filtering legislation on virtual worlds.

You can listen to the edited interview here (the full version is here), plus there’s some great previous features on augmented reality and more.

I also wrote a piece for Crikey on the net filtering issue, which you can read here.

Net filtering and virtual worlds: reactions

After last night’s story on the Australian Government’s internet content filtering legislation and its potential impact on virtual worlds, the response has been astounding. Today has seen the largest ever traffic on The Metaverse Journal. Like any issue, there are a few camps of thought:

1. Those who have significant concerns that environments like Second Life will end up being banned.

2. Those who have significant concerns, but cannot believe the Australian government would be so misguided as to oversee such a ban.

3. Those who believe the whole idea is hype and/or scaremongering and that the Federal Government will not take such a scattergun approach.

4. Those who support the proposed legislation.


A resident of Australia sim in Second Life unhappy with proposed net filtering plan

I tend to fall in the second camp, because there are innumerable examples of governments making policy that has unintended consequences for individuals not intended to be targeted by a new law. In fact, most legislation does that, it’s just that this proposition particularly stands out for its gaps in logic and potential to harm some really good work going on within Australia.

There’s certainly a chance that the final legislation, if passed at all, will have taken into account the intricacies of virtual worlds. I’m not holding my breath on that though, unless there’s some concerted efforts by Australians on the issue. Telstra and the ABC have plenty to lose and it’s both those organisations that could make a difference in sanity checking the final legislation. The hundreds of thousands of virtual environment consumers in Australia also have a large voice, if there’s a timely response in the event a ban does seem embedded in the legislation.

There’s plenty of time for these issues to be teased out – determining the Minister’s willingness to do so is the biggest unknown. We’ve contacted Senator Conroy’s office but unsurprisingly there’s been no response. What are your thought? Is it all a storm in a teacup, a call to action or a big yawn?

An open letter on virtual worlds for Senator Conroy

Today’s coverage by Asher Moses in Fairfax newspapers on the latest saga with content filtering in Australia, alludes to virtual environments such as Second Life being added to the list of content not suitable for viewing in Australia. Essentially, the issue is that online ‘games’ like World of Warcraft and Second Life have not received an Classification rating and therefore under the proposed content filtering would be blocked.


The government funded ABC island: collateral damage through bad policy?

It’s difficult to know where to begin to pick the flaws in the logic of the approach, but I thought it may be worth writing an open letter / tutorial to the obviously misinformed Minister in question, Senator Conroy:

1. Virtual worlds do indeed contain adult content such as sex of pretty much any type, simulated drug use and plenty of violence. That said, just like going to the R-rated shop located in most suburbs, in environments like Second Life you can’t partake of the goods unless you’ve provided proof of age. So Senator, are you going to mandate the Australian Federal Police to ensure every ‘bricks and mortar’ adult store customer has to go through a government check before entering? Will you also be closing down other social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, as they too are not rated and also contain graphic content?

2. Second Life, OpenSim grids and gaming worlds like World of Warcraft are three examples of environments that have highly valuable and empirically demonstrable educational benefits. Just talk to the dozens of Australian educators who have undertaken postgraduate research in the area. Can you explain what alternative means of immediate support the Rudd government will be providing to those people who utilise such environments for immediate health support around issues as diverse as mental health, physical disabilities and chronic disease support?

3. Given a range of virtual environments are used for the purposes of expressing free speech or engaging in activism in a much more visual way, does the Australian Labor party commit to not using emergent technologies for political purposes? Why should Gaza protesters not be able to get their message out via Second Life to Australians whilst the ALP spams YouTube with Kevin Rudd informercials?

4.On the child protection thing. Any normal person doesn’t want their kids exposed to undesirable influences – it’s called parenting. If parents cannot be trusted to screen virtual world content, then is the government also committing to a full ban on R-rated magazines in newsagents, a blanket ban on all legal drug consumption in public and zero tolerance on swearing or violence. And if so, how will this be funded and implemented?

5. Can the Rudd government outline how Australians will maintain their competitive advantage in a global economy where virtual worlds are increasingly adopted as a means of communication? Will books be distributed with vetted pictures of said technologies and will this be enough to make our children competitive?

6. This to me is the most important question of all: have you, Senator Conroy, received any substantive briefing on the opportunities virtual worlds provide for educators, health professionals and businesses? I don’t mean Steve Fielding showing you a picture of two avatars going at it in Second Life. I mean a real briefing covering demographics, trends, research and evidence-based success stories. I can point you in the direction of half a dozen great people locally off the top of my head. Hell, I’ll come too to report on your newfound open-mindedness. I promise I’ll behave.

Of course, Senator Conroy is no more likely to read the above open letter than he is to request the substantive briefing mentioned. To be fair, no definitive statement has been made by the government on virtual worlds but the signs certainly aren’t encouraging. Like the wider issues with content filtering, the baby looks like being thrown out with the bathwater, and we won’t know it until it’s too late. If this does come to pass, Australia will be up there with North Korea in developing its population to be tech-savvy competitors in a global economy. Now THAT’s an education revolution.

Postscript: this afternoon I spent some time discussing the issue with Tateru Nino (who’s written on the issue here and here) and she made a really good point: by creating its adult-only continent in Second life, has Linden Lab forced the hand of ACMA to provide a rating on Second Life’s content. Having everything conglomerated in one place makes a rating easier. The trouble is, under the proposed regime it could also spell the end of Second Life access for Australians, or at least some significantly pared down access to PG-areas only.

Australian politics and virtual worlds – no momentum

It’s coming up to a year since the change of Federal government in Australia. In Second Life, there was an election night party.

At the time there was lots of excited talk about the ALP’s broadband policy and the promise it may bring – there is progress on that front but it’s fraught with problems. Then there’s the internet censorship issue bubbling along. All in all, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy hasn’t shone in his role to date. There’s a real perception that we’ve got a government with 20th Century views on some distinctly 21st Century challenges.

In the year since that Second Life election party, there’s been zero interest by either political party in virtual worlds. There’s certainly been significant forays by both sides into social networking via YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. The US presidential primaries this year saw Second Life play a role, and Barack Obama’s supporters kept that going through the campaign itself. Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull have obvously been watching the US Democrats’ online campaigning efforts, but there’s no inkling of a virtual world foray at this stage.

We’ve previously queried our pollies on their thoughts with no response – it appears that the current Minister is no more cognisant of the opportunities and challenges than his predecessor.

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