You may be sick of worrying about online privacy, but ‘surveillance apathy’ is also a problem



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Do you care if your data is being used by third parties?
from www.shutterstock.com

Siobhan Lyons, Macquarie University

We all seem worried about privacy. Though it’s not only privacy itself we should be concerned about: it’s also our attitudes towards privacy that are important.

When we stop caring about our digital privacy, we witness surveillance apathy.

And it’s something that may be particularly significant for marginalised communities, who feel they hold no power to navigate or negotiate fair use of digital technologies.


Read more: Yes, your doctor might google you


In the wake of the NSA leaks in 2013 led by Edward Snowden, we are more aware of the machinations of online companies such as Facebook and Google. Yet research shows some of us are apathetic when it comes to online surveillance.

Privacy and surveillance

Attitudes to privacy and surveillance in Australia are complex.

According to a major 2017 privacy survey, around 70% of us are more concerned about privacy than we were five years ago.

Snapshot of Australian community attitudes to privacy 2017.
Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

And yet we still increasingly embrace online activities. A 2017 report on social media conducted by search marketing firm Sensis showed that almost 80% of internet users in Australia now have a social media profile, an increase of around ten points from 2016. The data also showed that Australians are on their accounts more frequently than ever before.

Also, most Australians appear not to be concerned about recently proposed implementation of facial recognition technology. Only around one in three (32% of 1,486) respondents to a Roy Morgan study expressed worries about having their faces available on a mass database.

A recent ANU poll revealed a similar sentiment, with recent data retention laws supported by two thirds of Australians.

So while we’re aware of the issues with surveillance, we aren’t necessarily doing anything about it, or we’re prepared to make compromises when we perceive our safety is at stake.

Across the world, attitudes to surveillance vary. Around half of Americans polled in 2013 found mass surveillance acceptable. France, Britain and the Philippines appeared more tolerant of mass surveillance compared to Sweden, Spain, and Germany, according to 2015 Amnesty International data.


Read more: Police want to read encrypted messages, but they already have significant power to access our data


Apathy and marginalisation

In 2015, philosopher Slavoj Žižek proclaimed that he did not care about surveillance (admittedly though suggesting that “perhaps here I preach arrogance”).

This position cannot be assumed by all members of society. Australian academic Kate Crawford argues the impact of data mining and surveillance is more significant for marginalised communities, including people of different races, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds. American academics Shoshana Magnet and Kelley Gates agree, writing:

[…] new surveillance technologies are regularly tested on marginalised communities that are unable to resist their intrusion.

A 2015 White House report found that big data can be used to perpetuate price discrimination among people of different backgrounds. It showed how data surveillance “could be used to hide more explicit forms of discrimination”.


Read more: Witch-hunts and surveillance: the hidden lives of queer people in the military


According to Ira Rubinstein, a senior fellow at New York University’s Information Law Institute, ignorance and cynicism are often behind surveillance apathy. Users are either ignorant of the complex infrastructure of surveillance, or they believe they are simply unable to avoid it.

As the White House report stated, consumers “have very little knowledge” about how data is used in conjunction with differential pricing.

So in contrast to the oppressive panopticon (a circular prison with a central watchtower) as envisioned by philosopher Jeremy Bentham, we have what Siva Vaidhyanathan calls the “crytopticon”. The crytopticon is “not supposed to be intrusive or obvious. Its scale, its ubiquity, even its very existence, are supposed to go unnoticed”.

But Melanie Taylor, lead artist of the computer game Orwell (which puts players in the role of surveillance) noted that many simply remain indifferent despite heightened awareness:

That’s the really scary part: that Snowden revealed all this, and maybe nobody really cared.

The Facebook trap

Surveillance apathy can be linked to people’s dependence on “the system”. As one of my media students pointed out, no matter how much awareness users have regarding their social media surveillance, invariably people will continue using these platforms. This is because they are convenient, practical, and “we are creatures of habit”.

Are you prepared to give up the red social notifications from Facebook?
nevodka/shutterstock

As University of Melbourne scholar Suelette Dreyfus noted in a Four Corners report on Facebook:

Facebook has very cleverly figured out how to wrap itself around our lives. It’s the family photo album. It’s your messaging to your friends. It’s your daily diary. It’s your contact list.

This, along with the complex algorithms Facebook and Google use to collect and use data to produce “filter bubbles” or “you loops” is another issue.

Protecting privacy

While some people are attempting to delete themselves from the network, others have come up with ways to avoid being tracked online.

Search engines such as DuckDuckGo or Tor Browser allow users to browse without being tracked. Lightbeam, meanwhile, allows users to see how their information is being tracked by third party companies. And MIT devised a system to show people the metadata of their emails, called Immersion.

The ConversationSurveillance apathy is more disconcerting than surveillance itself. Our very attitudes about privacy will inform the structure of surveillance itself, so caring about it is paramount.

Siobhan Lyons, Scholar in Media and Cultural Studies, Macquarie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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5G will be a convenient but expensive alternative to the NBN


Rod Tucker, University of Melbourne

Will Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) face damaging competition from the upcoming 5G network? NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow thinks so.

This week, he even floated the idea of a levy on mobile broadband services, although Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull quickly rejected the idea.

NBN Co is clearly going to have to compete with mobile broadband on an equal footing.


Read More: Like it or not, you’re getting the NBN, so what are your rights when buying internet services?


This latest episode in the NBN saga raises the question of exactly what 5G will offer broadband customers, and how it will sit alongside the fixed NBN network.

To understand how 5G could compare with the NBN, let’s examine the key differences and similarities between mobile networks and fixed-line broadband.

What is 5G?

5G stands for “5th generation mobile”. It builds upon today’s 4G mobile network technology, but promises to offer higher peak connection speeds and lower latency, or time delays.

5G’s higher connection speeds will be possible thanks to improved radio technologies, increased allocations of radio spectrum, and by using many more antenna sites or base stations than today’s networks. Each antenna will serve a smaller area, or cell.

The technical details of 5G are currently under negotiation in international standards bodies. 5G networks should be available in Australia by 2020, although regulatory changes are still needed.

Connections on 5G

In a mobile network, the user’s device (typically a smart phone) communicates with a nearby wireless base station via a radio link. All users connected to that base station share its available data capacity.

Australia’s mobile network typically provides download speeds of around 20 Mb/s. But the actual speed of connection for an individual decreases as the number of users increases. This effect is known as contention.

Anyone who has tried to upload a photo to Facebook from the Melbourne Cricket Ground will have experienced this.

Mobile base stations.
kongsky/Shutterstock

The maximum download speed of 5G networks could be more than 1 Gb/s. But in practice, it will likely provide download speeds around 100 Mb/s or higher.

Because of contention and the high cost of the infrastructure, mobile network operators also impose significant data download limits for 4G. It is not yet clear what level of data caps will apply in 5G networks.

Connections on the NBN

In a fixed-line network like the NBN, the user typically connects to the local telephone exchange via optical fibre. Directly, in the case of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), or by copper wiring and then fibre, in fibre-to-the-node (FTTN).

An important difference between the NBN and a mobile network is that on the NBN, there is virtually no contention on the data path between the user and the telephone exchange. In other words, the user’s experience is almost independent of how many other users are online.

But, as highlighted in the recent public debate around the NBN, some users have complained that NBN speeds decrease at peak usage times.

Importantly, this is not a fundamental issue of the NBN technology. Rather, it is caused by artificial throttling thanks to the NBN Co’s Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC) charges, and/or by contention in the retail service provider’s network.

Retail service providers like TPG pay CVC charges to NBN Co to gain bandwidth into the NBN. These charges are currently quite high, and this has allegedly encouraged some service providers to skimp on bandwidth, leading to contention.

A restructuring of the wholesale model as well as providing adequate bandwidth in NBN Co’s transit network could easily eliminate artificial throttling.

The amount of data allowed by retailers per month is also generally much higher on the NBN than in mobile networks. It is often unlimited.

This will always be a key difference between the NBN and 5G.

Don’t forget, 5G needs backhaul

In wireless networks, the connection between the base stations and internet is known as backhaul.

Today’s 4G networks often use microwave links for backhaul, but in 5G networks where the quantity of data to be transferred will be higher, the backhaul will necessarily be optical fibre.

In the US and elsewhere, a number of broadband service providers are planning to build 5G backhaul networks using passive optical network (PON) technology. This is the type used in the NBN’s FTTP sections.

In fact, this could be a new revenue opportunity for NBN Co. It could encourage the company to move back to FTTP in certain high-population density areas where large numbers of small-cell 5G base stations are required.

So, will 5G Compete with the NBN?

There is a great deal of excitement about the opportunities 5G will provide. But its full capacity will only be achieved through very large investments in infrastructure.

Like today’s 4G network, large data downloads for video streaming and other bandwidth-hungry applications will likely be more expensive using 5G than using the NBN.


Read More: The NBN needs subsidies if we all want to benefit from it


In addition, future upgrades to the FTTP sections of the NBN will accommodate download speeds as high as 10 Gb/s, which will not be achievable with 5G.

Unfortunately, those customers served by FTTN will not enjoy these higher speeds because of the limitations of the copper connections between the node and the premises.

The Conversation5G will provide convenient broadband access for some internet users. But as the demand for ultra-high-definition video streaming and new applications such as virtual reality grow, the NBN will remain the network of choice for most customers, especially those with FTTP services.

Rod Tucker, Laureate Emeritus Professor, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull’s government must accept responsibility for delivering an equitable NBN for all Australians



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NBN delivery is variable across different states, but also within the same local council areas.
from www.shutterstock.com

Tooran Alizadeh, University of Sydney

On Monday night Four Corners asked Australia to consider “What’s wrong with the NBN?”.

Prior to the episode airing, a lot of the debate focused on the NBN’s business model, and that it may not be profitable.

I, however, am not sure if the financial returns need be our biggest concern when referring to public service and critical infrastructure. My answer to the question “what’s wrong with the NBN?” is quite simple: the NBN is inequitable.


Read more: The NBN: how a national infrastructure dream fell short


A “train wreck”

This week started with a fiery speech delivered by the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. He said the NBN was a mistake, blamed the former Labor government for the set up, and described the NBN’s business model as a “calamitous train wreck”.

Turnbull’s remarks triggered a number of responses, including one from former Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. He attached responsibility of NBN’s failure to the current government, as they “changed the model completely” compared to the original design.

More broadly, the Four Corners program itself created mixed reactions on social media. It was criticised for being “weak”, and not “challenging enough”, but also praised as “exceptional”.

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I find it incredibly frustrating to see a national critical infrastructure project diminished to political ping pong. In my opinion, bipartisan commitment is required in order to deliver an equitable NBN for all Australians.

Inequity from the start

Introduced by Labor, the original NBN was announced in April 2009. The plan was to provide terrestrial fibre network coverage for 93% of Australian premises by the end of 2020, with the remaining 7% served by fixed wireless and satellite coverage. In other words, Labor’s NBN was mainly equitable in terms of the advanced technology adopted across the board.


Read more: Three charts on: the NBN and Australia’s digital divide


However, research on the early NBN rollout pointed out the issue of timing. Even under the most optimistic estimations, it was going to take over a decade to build the nation-wide infrastructure. So, there were always questions about who was going to get the infrastructure first, and who had to wait over a decade for a similar service.

The results of the 2013 Federal election changed the fate of the NBN. The elected Coalition government decided the NBN rollout should transition from a primarily fibre-to-premises model to a mixed-technology model.



Various/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

FTTP = fibre to the premises; FTTN/FFTB = fibre to the node/basement;
HFC = Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial


This added to the complexity of the NBN, and created new layers in the inequality concerns around the NBN. In the Coalition’s NBN, many could be waiting quite some years and yet still only receive a lower quality level of access to the service.

Inequity in 2017

Now we’re past the halfway point of NBN delivery, and inequality of the service is clear at two levels.

Large scale

Recent research shows there is a clear digital divide between urban versus regional Australia in terms of access to the NBN. Regional Australia is missing out, both in terms of pace and quality of delivery in the mixed-technology model. This pretty much means that WA and NT are the worst off parts of the nation, because of the spread and dominance of regional and remote communities within them.

“Fine grain” scale

As described on Four Corners, mixed-technology NBN within local government areas and neighbourhoods means some people are better off than others.

Some receive fibre-to-premises service while others have fibre-to-node. The quality of the service also depends on how far someone lives and works from a node, which basically suggests even people on the same fibre-to-nodes service could have varied level of (dis)satisfaction with their internet and phone services.

Research published in 2015 captured some of the frustrations on the ground at the local government level. Differing qualities of internet services available were perceived to have direct implications for local economic development, productivity, and sense of community at the local level.

The two layers of NBN inequality mean that while some customers may be happy with their NBN, many experience a frustrating downgrade of service after moving to the NBN. This may help explain the increase in the number of NBN complaints across the nation.


Read more: Lack of internet affordability may worsen Australia’s digital divide


Let’s start moving forwards

Politicising the NBN and blaming one party over another has been part of the national misfortune around the NBN. But, I believe, the inequality of the NBN is part of a bigger trend in infrastructure decision making in Australia that fails to fully account for the socioeconomic implications. Other examples of this trend are seen in major (controversial) transport projects around the nation (e.g. East West Link in Melbourne, WestConnex in Sydney).

Current and future Australian governments must accept responsibility, and find a way forward for the NBN that is built on the notion of equitable service.

We can start with questions such as who needs the service the most, and who can do the most with it. These two questions refer to the social inclusion and productivity implications of the NBN.

The ConversationThe NBN, as a publicly funded national infrastructure project, has to be equitable to be a truly nation building platform. As long as it is failing some, it is failing us all as a nation.

Tooran Alizadeh, Senior Lecturer, Director of Urban Design, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Like it or not, you’re getting the NBN, so what are your rights when buying internet services?


Jeannie Marie Paterson, University of Melbourne

Complaints about the national broadband network (NBN), involving connection delays, unusable internet or landlines and slow internet speed are on the rise.


Read more: When it comes to the NBN, we keep having the same conversations over and over


Most Australians will be forced to move onto the NBN within 18 months of it being switched on in their area, and that means navigating what can be confusing new contracts.

So, what are your rights regarding landline and internet connections?

Landlines

Many consumers can and do manage without a landline. But particularly for those without a reliable mobile service, a landline can be essential. It is included in many phone and internet “bundles” offered by internet service providers.

Standard telephone services (primarily landline services) are subject to a Customer Service Guarantee enshrined in law under the Telecommunications Act 1997.

This means that standards apply to common services such as connection of a phone line, repairs of that line and attending appointments on time. The provider will have to pay compensation to the customer if the Customer Service Guarantee standards are not met.

Despite this, some providers suggest a customer waive his or her customer service guarantee rights. There are safeguards for this waiver to be effective, primarily in that the provider must explain the nature of the rights to the customer before asking for the waiver.

The idea behind allowing providers to request a waiver of the Customer Service Guarantee is that it will allow customers to obtain cheaper services than would otherwise be the case. However, we might question the integrity of the consent typically given to such waivers, given consumers generally don’t read contracts and may have little understanding of the value of the Customer Service Guarantee or the likelihood of having to claim under it.

In any event, providers cannot ask for a waiver for Universal Service Obligations, which ensure accessible services for all customers, including those with a disability and those who live in remote areas.

Internet

The Customer Service Guarantee does not apply to internet connections – although the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network has argued that it should.

So there are no statutory obligations for internet providers, or NBN Co, to connect customers within a particular time frame or respond promptly to complaints.

The main safeguard for customers for internet services is in the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

If an internet service provider promises a particular broadband speed and does not provide that speed, the provider may have engaged in misleading conduct contrary to the ACL. Damages and even penalty payments could be awarded against it. And fine print qualifications to the headline statement about internet speeds will not necessary protect the provider.

In addition, the Consumer Guarantees under the ACL (not to be confused with the Customer Service Guarantee under the Telecommunications Act) ensure that any equipment provided with an internet service must be of acceptable quality, and services be provided with due care and skill.

If these standards are not met, the consumer has a right to certain remedies under the ACL and damages for losses that result from the failure. These rights should go some way to protecting telecommunications consumers, although of course they do not directly guarantee that the provider will arrive on time for a scheduled appointment.

The ConversationSo while you may wish to charge your internet service provider for not turning up to an installation appointment, you wouldn’t get far under current Australian law.

Jeannie Marie Paterson, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Here’s how Australia can act to target racist behaviour online



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Racists take advantage of social media algorithms to find people with similar beliefs.
from www.shutterstock.com

Andrew Jakubowicz, University of Technology Sydney

Although racism online feels like an insurmountable problem, there are legal and civil actions we can take right now in Australia to address it.

Racism expressed on social media sites provided by Facebook and the Alphabet stable (which includes Google and YouTube) ranges from advocacy of white power, support of the extermination of Jews and the call for political action against Muslim citizens because of their faith. Increasingly it occurs within the now “private” pages of groups that “like” racism.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center 2017 Digital Terrorism and Hate Report card.
Simon Wiesenthal Center

At the heart of the problem is the clash between commercial goals of social media companies (based around creating communities, building audiences, and publishing and curating content to sell to advertisers), and self-ascribed ethical responsibilities of companies to users.

Although some platforms show growing awareness of the need to respond more quickly to complaints, it’s a very slow process to automate.

Australia should focus on laws that protect internet users from overt hate, and civil actions to help balance out power relationships.


Read more: Tech companies can distinguish between free speech and hate speech


Three actions on the legal front

At the global level, Australia could withdraw its reservation to Article 4 of the International Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Such a move has been flagged in the past, but stymied by opposition from an alliance of free speech and social conservative activists and politicians.

The convention is a global agreement to outlaw racism and racial discrimination, and Article 4 committed signatories to criminalise race hate speech. Australia’s reservation reflected the conservative governments’ reluctance to use the criminal law, similar to the civil law debate over section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in 2016/7.

New data released by the eSafety Commissioner showed young people are subjected to extensive online hate. Amongst other findings, 53% of young Muslims said they had faced harmful online content; Indigenous people and asylum seekers were also frequent targets of online hate. Perhaps this could lead governments and opposition parties to a common cause.


Read more: Australians believe 18C protections should stay


Secondly, while Australian law has adopted the European Convention on Cyber Crime, it could move further and adopt the additional protocol. This outlaws racial vilification, and the advocacy of xenophobia and racism.

The impact of these international agreements would be to make serious cases of racial vilification online criminal acts in Australia, and the executive employees of platforms that refused to remove them personally criminally liable. This situation has emerged in Germany where Facebook executives have been threatened with the use of such laws. Mark Zuckerberg visited Germany to pledge opposition to anti-immigrant vilification in 2016.

Finally, Australia could adopt a version of New Zealand’s approach to harmful digital communication. Here, platforms are held ultimately accountable for the publication of online content that seriously offends, and users can challenge the failure of platforms to take down offensive material in the realm of race hate. Currently complaints via the Australian Human Rights Commission do elicit informal cooperation in some cases, but citizen rights are limited.

Taken together, these elements would mark out to providers and users of internet services that there is a shared responsibility for reasonable civility.

Digital platforms can allow racist behaviour to be anonymous.
from www.shutterstock.com

Civil strategies

In addition to legal avenues, civil initiatives can empower those who are the targets of hate speech, and disempower those who are the perpetrators of race hate.

People who are targeted by racists need support and affirmation. This approach underpins the eSafety commissioner’s development of a Young and Safe portal, which offers stories and scenarios designed to build confidence and grow skills in young people. This is extending to address concerns of women and children, racism, and other forms of bullying.

The Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI) has become a reservoir of insights and capacities to identify and pursue perpetrators. As proposed by OHPI, a CyberLine could be created for tipping and reporting race hate speech online, for follow up and possible legal action. Such a hotline would also serve as a discussion portal on what racism looks like and what responses are appropriate.

Anti-racism workshops (some have already been run by the E Safety commissioner) have aimed to push back against hate, and build structures where people can come together online. Modelling and disseminating best practice against race hate speech offers resources to wider communities that can then be replicated elsewhere.

The Point magazine (an online youth-centred publication for the government agency Multicultural New South Wales) reported two major events where governments sponsored industry/community collaboration to find ways forward against cyber racism.

What makes a diverse Australia?

The growth of online racism marks the struggle between a dark and destructive social movement that wishes to suppress or minimise the recognition of cultural differences, confronted by an emergent social movement that treasures cultural differences and egalitarian outcomes in education and wider society.

Advocacy organisations can play a critical role in advancing an agenda of civility and responsibility through the state, the economy and civil society. The social movements of inclusion will ultimately put pressure on the state and in the economy to ensure the major platforms do in fact accept full responsibilities for the consequences of their actions. If a platform refuses to publish hate speech or acts to remove it when it receives valid complaints, such views remain a private matter for the individual who holds them, not a corrosive undermining of civil society.

We need to rebalance the equation between civil society, government and the internet industry, so that when the population confronts the industry, demonstrating it wants answers, we will begin to see responsibility emerge.

Governments also need to see their role as more strongly ensuring a balance between the right to a civil discourse and the profitability of platforms. Currently the Australian government seems not to accept that it has such a role, even though a number of states have begun to act.


The ConversationThe Cyber Racism and Community Resilience Project CRaCR explores why cyber racism has grown in Australia and globally, and what concerned communities have and can do about it. This article summarises the recommendations CRaCR made to industry partners.

Andrew Jakubowicz, Professor of Sociology, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

When it comes to the NBN, we keep having the same conversations over and over



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Another day, another report. Will it change Australia’s NBN?
CommScope/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

David Glance, University of Western Australia

The Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network (NBN) released its first report on Friday, just as most people on the east coast of Australia headed into a long weekend, complete with two sporting grand finals.

The release on a Friday afternoon, sometimes referred to by the media as the “Friday news dump”, is generally what governments do when they want the published report to gather dust.


Read More: The NBN needs subsidies if we all want to benefit from it


In fact, its hundreds of pages actually included two reports from the one committee. The dissenting report, supported by its Liberal Party members, including the committee’s chair Sussan Ley, contradict many of the conclusions of the first, which was backed by the Labor Party members and Australian Greens, among others.

One ironic benefit of the report is that whatever your political view, there will be something that you’re likely agree with. But is that the way to create good internet policy?

What did the report say?

The report is from the latest committee, formed in September 2016, to inquire and report on the rollout of the NBN. It replaced the Senate Select Committee on the NBN that operated between 2013 to early 2016.

The report makes 23 recommendations. These range from recommending that the NBN cost and plan for a switch for all remaining Fibre to the Node (FTTN) connections to use Fibre to the Curb (FTTC), through to recommending that the government measure and report on “digital inclusion”.

Many of these recommendations are dismissed or ignored in the Chair’s dissenting report.

As political and business commentator Alan Kohler summarised in The Australian:

Like so much of Australian public policy over the past 10 years, the NBN has been hopelessly politicised, so that anything that comes out of any politician’s mouth on the subject can be ignored as most likely unreliable twaddle.

The challenges of the process

Given the political nature of the process and the desired outcomes, in my view, there is a bias built into the process from the start.

This is both in how facts are interpreted and presented in the report, and how groups, companies and individuals with specific vested interests use committees as a means of stating their claims.

The report claims for example that FTTC is a “future-proofed technology” whereas FTTN is not, but little evidence is given to back up the claim.

It appears “future-proofing” is simply a term for the fact that FTTC would theoretically cost less to upgrade than FTTN, but complete data is not offered.

In another case, the report discusses complaints made to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman about connection delay issues, citing a “slight decrease” in the number of complaints relative to the number of activated premises.

The decrease is not entirely insignificant: for example, complaints made about 0.98% of total new connections in quarter three of 2015-16 dropped to 0.56% in quarter two of 2016-17.

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The rate of fault complaints about NBN services has also dropped slightly over time and is running at 0.15% of premises activated (2,460 complaints made out of 1,652,564 premises activated over time in quarter two of 2016-17).

Another key problem with committees of this sort is that during the time it takes to investigate, write and publish the report, events have overtaken the process.

The report recommends that the NBN cost a plan to substitute FTTC for FTTN. This has already happened after a fashion, with NBN Co presenting costing to the NBN Co board and to the government. The proposal was apparently rejected because it would have been too expensive and not kept NBN Co’s funding within the A$49 billion limit.

History repeating

Much of what is included in the report are issues that have been discussed by previous committees, but also more widely in the public sphere. We have seen the same topics, arguments, paucity of data and overreliance on anecdote time and again.

Given the government’s “Friday news dump”, a more general question to ask is whether making submissions to these committees is worth the time and effort?


Read More: Lack of internet affordability may worsen Australia’s digital divide: new report


I personally attended an expert session in Parliament held by the previous committee in early 2016. The same issues and questions were asked then and by and large the same types of responses were given. Nothing came of that and this report largely rehashes the same conversation.

As Alan Kohler remarked, public policy shaping the NBN has been marked by political motives and to a far lesser extent, economic or social ones. For that reason, data is not being given proper weight, and is often shaped to support a political perspective.

The ConversationGiven the situation, we are perhaps fortunate to have made the progress we have.

David Glance, Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A pirate site explores a new way of paying for the Internet that doesn’t involve ads



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What if ads disappeared?
Eddie J Rodriquez/Shutterstock

David Glance, University of Western Australia

It would be an understatement to say that advertising as the main business model of the internet is in a crisis.

For a start, there is the fact that Google and Facebook between them suck up most of the revenue from digital advertising. They accounted for 99% of revenue growth in digital advertising in the US in 2016 and took 77% of all advertising spending in that same year.

Then there is the growth of ad blockers, whose use grew 30% also in 2016. Worse still, attempts to simply deny access to users with ad blockers (until they whitelisted the site) resulted in 74% of users simply leaving and not visiting that site.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Google is joining the ad blocking fight by building ad blocking directly into its Chrome browser. To cap it all, Apple has introduced intelligent ad-tracking prevention into Safari that has resulted in the American Association of Advertising Agencies to publicly oppose the move.

Like it or not, advertising, and the battle for the public’s attention, is one of the principal means of supporting everything on the web that is free. Charging for services has been a long and hard battle that has only worked for some companies in some areas of the web.

This is what makes a recent move to generate revenue using a relatively untapped user resource an intriguing possibility.

The Pirate Bay website is infamous for providing access to pirated copies of movies, music and other digital media. It recently ran an experiment where certain visitors to the site had a program run on their computers that “mined” the cryptocurrency Monero for as long as the visitors stayed on that page. Users noted the spike in the utilisation of their computer processor and discovered that the site was secretly running a program without their knowledge.

The Pirate Bay later released a statement saying that they had been testing the code as a possible way of replacing advertising as a means of creating revenue. Initially, there had been a bug which allowed the program to claim all of the processing power of the computer when only a smaller amount was intended to be used.

Surprisingly, comments on this statement were supportive of the move. As far as users were concerned, the use of their computer processing power for the brief time they were on the site was seen as being less obtrusive than the usual pornographic ads that Pirate Bay normally showed. Their only complaint was that the Pirate Bay should inform them that this was happening rather than doing it covertly.

The statement from Pirate Bay made it clear that the code could still be blocked by users not wanting to participate in this type or revenue generation scheme.

What is ingenious about this approach however is that it has long been assumed that the only thing that the public could offer sites on the Internet was their attention. This has even lead to the idea of the attention economy being the only economic model for the Internet.

However, Amazon, and other companies involved in cloud computing have shown that access to computing resources is also a scarce resource and is worth a huge amount of money. Amazon’s Web Services business is worth US$12 billion a year.

Whilst the Pirate Bay is using consumer’s processing power for the production of cryptocurrency, this type of distributed processing on home computers has been used to search radio astronomy data for extra-terrestrial life and explore protein folding to advance research into various diseases. These particular projects are voluntary at the moment, but this approach could be used by commercial companies who are willing to pay for user’s time.

Better still, users could even share in the revenues generated by a site using their computer or mobile phone for this type of processing work. This was the motivation for the Golem project which described itself as the “AirBnB for computers”, where users would explicitly turn over their computer for commercial companies to use.

Somewhat more ironically, sites like Pirate Bay could even use some of the revenue raised to donate back to the movie and music companies whose content it is helping to “share”.

The meteoric rise of ad blockers has highlighted how much consumers despise ads on sites. It has resulted in a pitch battle between content providers desperate to find a business model to support what they do, and customers who are unwilling to pay and hate the ad-driven alternative.

The ConversationUsing a different resource that is not attention seems to actually represent a “win-win” for both the site and consumer, although it would probably not come as a welcome development to Google and Facebook.

David Glance, Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Things to consider when making the switch to the NBN and what to expect



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NBN HFC setup.
Author

David Glance, University of Western Australia

With all of the negative press about Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN), consumers who have the option to switch to the NBN from a working broadband connection might be forgiven for being cautious. After the NBN is made available in an area, residents have up to 18 months to switch from their current plans to one provided on the NBN. Once it is available in an area however, residents are usually deluged with offers from various internet service providers (ISPs) about switching, making it hard to ignore.

Moving to NBN on HFC

In my area in Western Australia, I have had HFC from Telstra for many years and so changing to the NBN does not involve a change in the underlying technology. Although some researchers have classified HFC as being an inferior technology to Fibre to the Node, it is actually capable of delivering speeds of 100 Mbps down and 40 Mbps up. Within the next one to two years HFC will be capable of 1 Gbps speeds with the roll out of DOCSIS 3.1.

HFC connections may still suffer if ISPs do not adequately provision adequate CVC capacity on the NBN but HFC does not have the same limitations as Fibre to the Node with regard to the distance from the node. There is also a possibility that the NBN will see more homes connected to a node than was the case when Telstra ran the network. This may also impact performance.

In my case, I was consistently getting speeds of 100 Mbps for downloads but only 2 Mbps for uploads. Prior to the NBN, these speeds have been a luxury for those Australian’s who lived in areas that were services by Telstra and Optus with HFC.

Making the switch to the NBN was relatively simple but uncovered some decisions that it is worth spending time considering. If doing a conversion, some of the options aren’t made obvious by the sales team and so need to be explicitly requested.

The question of speed

Once you have decided on an ISP, there is the question of what speed of connection is available at any given residence. HFC doesn’t suffer from a slowdown based on the distance from the “node” and so speeds up to 100 Mbps are available. ISPs like Telstra however, sell plans based on download limits and at the default of 25 Mpbs. Choosing up to 100 Mbps costs another AUD 30 a month.

It seems that for most Australians who have connected to the NBN, the default of 25 Mbps has been the most popular choice, with 53% of fixed connections being at 25 Mbps and a further 29% at the lowest tier of 12 Mbps. For the average family just watching streaming video and using social media and browsing, this is likely to be fine. It has resulted however in the overall average speed of internet connections in Australia remaining low at 10.1 Mbps.

Choice of wireless router

Another choice that doesn’t seem important at the time is the choice of wireless router that ISPs offer. Here again, the default for Telstra is a basic Sagemcom F@ST 5535. And it is basic. It doesn’t support the fastest wireless protocols used by recent smartphones and laptops, 802.11ac. The fixed cable connections from the router are also not the fastest kind. Not having the fastest wireless can make a significant difference to the overall speed of the internet connection of devices and so it is always worth upgrading.

Some of the routers also have the ability to fail over to using 4G if the NBN connection is not available for any reason. This may be important because on the NBN, the landline phone is switched over to using the main internet connection using Voice over IP (VoIP) and not the physical connection over the old copper network. However, if the power goes out, the phone will also be unavailable even by this route.

Other than for the phone connection, any wireless router can be connected to the NBN modem. The Telstra router can then be simply used for the phone connection and its WiFi switched off.

Making the switch

For me, and I stress the personal nature of this, the switch was fast, efficient and painless. From contacting Telstra, the wireless router was shipped within 4 days and the appointment with the NBN technician booked for a week after the order was placed. Any interaction with the Telstra NBN connection staff involved little wait times and the only negatives were some confusing emails and an order status that said the order was delayed when it wasn’t.

The NBN technician arrived and didn’t need to switch the physical box attached to the wall outside the house. It was just a question of plugging in the modem, making sure it worked, and telling NBN and Telstra to switch it all on. The technician gave me advice of avoiding being disconnected when making the switch over from the old system to the new and then left, although I had been barraging him with questions about how the rollout was going.

Getting connected was just a question of connecting the wireless router to the NBN modem, switching it on and connecting to the wireless network. As I mentioned above, I use Apple wireless routers and so altered the configuration after things were connected.

And the results?

The download speed dropped from the Telstra non-NBN connection. During the morning, I got about 94 Mbps download. The massive difference was in the upload speed which is now about 38 Mbps. This is a huge bonus over the existing connection which gave 2 Mbps. Upload speeds are never really thought about as a problem until you realise that synchronising with services like iCloud, Google Drive and DropBox all become significantly faster with the NBN connection.

However, in the evening, the speed dropped to between 50 – 70 Mbps download and 23 – 35 Mbps upload. This was something that didn’t happen on the Telstra non-NBN connection which was consistent even in the evenings.

It is still early days and as more people connect in my immediate area, bandwidth may be further affected. Telstra may also ramp up the capacity so that there are not these changes in speed based on the time of day.

Update from NBN Co

In response to the article, a spokesperson from NBN Co clarified the following points:

[1] With regard to the number of HFC connections per node:

“At present Telstra runs around 1000 premises on an HFC node sharing 1Gbps of capacity. On the nbn we will have only 650 premises per Node and once we reach full DOCSIS 3.1 we will have 10Gbps of capacity available”

[2] Regarding the speed drop I had experienced in the evenings:

The Conversation“Your speed drop in the evening is almost certainly CVC related”

David Glance, Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Country rules: the ‘splinternet’ may be the future of the web



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Our internet is becoming increasingly fragmented thanks to local laws.
c12/Shutterstock

Terry Flew, Queensland University of Technology

Both The Economist and WIRED are worried about the “splinternet”. The UK research organisation NESTA thinks it could “break up” the world wide web as we know it.

What is this awkwardly named idea? It’s the concept that someone’s experience of the internet in Turkey, for example, is increasingly different from their experience of the internet in Australia.

Travellers to China, in particular, will be familiar with this phenomenon. Thanks to the government’s tight control, they have to use Baidu rather than Google as their search engine, and are unable to access Facebook or news sites like The Economist and the New York Times.


Read More: Is America’s digital leadership on the wane?


We have a growing splinternet because of regional content blocking and the need for companies to comply with diverse, often conflicting national policies, regulations and court decisions.

This tension is particularly apparent when it comes to the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter. These platform companies have users in almost every country, and governments are increasingly insisting that they comply with local laws and cultural norms when it comes to access and content.

The internet was never truly open

The idea of the internet as an independent, global and unregulated platform has always been something of a fiction. Even at the height of techno-futurist rhetoric about its potential to transcend national boundaries in the late 1990s, there were always exceptions.

The Chinese Communist Party understood from the start that the internet was simply a new form of media, and media control was central to national sovereignty and its authority.

But the splinternet refers to a broader tendency to use laws and regulatory powers within territorial jurisdictions to set limits on digital activities.

A threshold moment was Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013. The documents he shared suggested that the US National Security Agency, through its PRISM program, had been collecting information from global users of Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo.

In countries such Brazil, whose leaders had had their communications intercepted, this accelerated moves towards developing national internet control.

Brazil’s Marco Civil da Internet law, for instance, now requires global companies to comply with Brazilian laws around data protection.

Is this a bad thing?

Until now, much of the appeal of the internet has been that it’s driven by user content and preferences, and not by governments.

But people are paying more attention to hate speech, targeted online abuse, extremism, fake news and other toxic aspects of online culture. Women, people of colour and members of certain religions are disproportionately targeted online.

Academics such as Tarleton Gillespie and public figures such as Stephen Fry are part of a growing rejection of the typical response of platform providers: that they are “just technology companies” – intermediaries – and cannot involve themselves in regulating speech.

A UK House of Commons report into “hate crime and its violent consequences” noted that:

…there is a great deal of evidence that these platforms are being used to spread hate, abuse and extremism. That trend continues to grow at an alarming rate but it remains unchecked and, even where it is illegal, largely unpoliced.

If we say online hate speech “should be policed”, two obvious questions arise: who would do it and on what grounds?

At present, content on the major platforms is largely managed by the companies themselves. The Guardian’s Facebook Files revealed both the extent and limitations of such moderation.

We may see governments become increasingly willing to step in, further fragmenting the user experience.

Fair play for all

There are other concerns at play in the splinternet. One is the question of equity between technology companies and traditional media.

Brands like Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix and Amazon are eclipsing traditional media giants. Yet film, television, newspapers and magazines are still subject to considerably greater levels of country-specific regulation and public scrutiny.

For example, Australian commercial television networks must comply with locally produced material and children’s content regulations. These mostly do not apply to YouTube or Netflix despite audiences and advertisers migrating to these providers.


Read More: Discontents: identity, politics and institutions in a time of populism


It is increasingly apparent to media policy makers that existing regulations aren’t meaningful unless they extend into the online space.

In Australia, the 2012 Convergence Review sought to address this. It recommended that media regulations should apply to “Content Service Enterprises” that met a particular size threshold, rather than basing the rules on the platform that carries the content.

Do we want a splinternet?

We may be heading towards a splinternet unless new global rules can be set. They must combine the benefits of openness with the desire to ensure that online platforms operate in the public interest.

Yet if platform providers are forced to navigate a complex network of national laws and regulations, we risk losing the seamless interconnectedness of online communication.

The burden of finding a solution rests not only on governments and regulators, but on the platforms themselves.

Their legitimacy in the eyes of users is tied up with what Bank of England chair Mark Carney has termed for markets is a “social licence to operate”.

The ConversationAlthough Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and others operate globally, they need to be aware that the public expects them to be a force for social good locally.

Terry Flew, Professor of Media and Communications, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Lack of internet affordability may worsen Australia’s digital divide: new report



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An affordability gap and increasing reliance on mobile data could limit internet access for some Australians.
29233640@N07/flickr , CC BY-SA

Julian Thomas, RMIT University

We often think of the internet as a levelling, democratising technology – one that extends access to knowledge, education, cultural resources and markets.

But the net also reflects the social and economic divides we find offline.

Released this week, the second report of the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) reports on data covering four years of local online participation across three dimensions: online access, digital ability and affordability. Together, the three dimensions produce a digital inclusion score.

Since 2014, when data was first collected, Australia’s overall digital inclusion score has improved by 3.8 points, from 52.7 to 56.5. In 2016–2017 alone, Australia’s score rose by 2.0 points, from 54.5 to 56.5.

But there is still a “digital divide” between richer and poorer Australians. In 2017, people in our lowest income households (less than A$35,000 per year) have a digital inclusion score of 41.1, which is 27 points lower than those in the highest income households (above A$150,000) at 68.1.


Read more: Three charts on the NBN and Australia’s digital divide


When the three dimensions are considered separately, the measures of access and digital ability show consistent improvement from 2014 to 2017. However, the affordability measure has registered a decline since the 2014 national baseline (despite a slight bump in the past 12 months).

Online access and digital ability have increased since 2014, but affordability has dropped.
Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2017, Author provided

The cost of being connected

Affordability is a key dimension of digital inclusion.

Internet connectivity is important for accessing a wide range of education, government, health and business services. A decline in internet affordability means Australians on fixed or low incomes risk missing out on the benefits of digital technologies, and falling further behind more connected Australians.

The ADII shows that the cost of data — for both fixed and mobile internet — has declined over 2014-2017. These findings are in line with the ACCC’s ongoing monitoring of prices for telecommunications services, which indicate an average decline in real terms of 3.1% since 2006.

However, when we measure affordability, we are not only looking at the cost of data; we are also interested in what proportion of household income is being dedicated to this service.

The affordability problem with the internet is different from other key household services where there are price pressures, such as electricity and water. The residential consumption of energy has grown very slowly over the last decade, but prices have increased sharply.

With the internet, while we are now getting more data for our dollar, our demand for data has dramatically increased.

A recent report from the Commonwealth Bureau of Communications and Arts Research (BCAR) tracks the affordability of phone and internet use since 2006.

The BCAR report finds that, overall, phone and internet affordability has improved since 2006. However, their data also shows that almost all the gains occurred before 2013, and that, since then, affordability has declined or flat-lined. Further, BCAR’s data suggests that the lowest income households in Australia are now spending almost 10% of their incomes on internet and communications services. In contrast, middle income households are spending around 4% of their disposable income on these services, and for wealthier households, the figure is less than 2%.

Increasing reliance on mobile

Some recent and far-reaching changes in our use of technology are evident here: the extent to which the internet has become an integral part of everyday life, the fact that we are spending more time online, and we are doing an increasing range of activities online. In many households, we are also connecting with more devices.

However, the problem of affordability also reflects another recent development that the ADII highlights: one-in-five Australians now only accesses the internet through a mobile device — and we know that mobile data is considerably more expensive than fixed broadband on a per gigabyte basis.

Mobile-only use is correlated with a range of socioeconomic factors. The ADII data shows that people in low income households, those who are not employed, and those with low levels of education, are all more likely to be mobile-only.

Despite the benefits of mobile internet, this group is characterised by a relatively high degree of digital exclusion. In 2017, mobile-only users have an overall ADII score of 42.3, 14.2 points below the national average (56.5).

Digital inclusion is unequal

In the 2017 report, the ACT, followed by Victoria and New South Wales, are the highest scoring states in the overall digital inclusion score, as they were in 2016. Tasmania remains the lowest scoring, followed by South Australia.

Australia’s national digital inclusion score in 2017 is 56.5, but varies from state to state.
Australian Digital Inclusion Index, Author provided

The lowest scoring socio-demographic groups in 2017 were households earning less than A$35,000 per year (overall score of 41.1), Australians aged over 65 (overall score of 42.9) and those with a disability (overall score of 47.0).


Read more: Regional Australia is crying out for equitable access to broadband


The ADII uses data derived from Roy Morgan Research’s ongoing, weekly Single Source survey of 50,000 Australians. These are extensive, face-to-face interviews, dealing with information and technology, internet services, attitudes, and demographics.

Calculations for the ADII are based on a sub-sample of 16,000 responses in each 12 month period. The index is a score out of 100: the higher the overall score, the higher the level of digital inclusion. An ADII score of 100 represents a hypothetically perfect level of access, affordability, and digital ability. A score of 65 or over is regarded as high; one below 45 as low.

A focus on improvement

An increasing number of Australians are online, but although the costs of data and devices are falling, there is a risk that issues of affordability will leave some of our most vulnerable behind.

Australians with low levels of income, education and employment are consistently less connected than the rest of the population, with consequences that will become increasingly serious as the digital transformation of government and the economy proceeds.

As an increasing number of essential services and communications move online, the challenge to make the Australian internet more inclusive is becoming more urgent. Affordability is a key area for attention, but so is improving Australians’ digital ability.

The issue of affordability suggests a range of possible areas for useful policy intervention. If we think it important to subsidise essential utilities such as electricity for low-income Australians, we may need to consider whether an allowance for internet access for essential services might also be necessary.

The ConversationFor the large number of lower-income Australians who rely entirely on mobile devices for internet connections, we will also need to consider new ways to support digital inclusion. These could include unmetered access to essential health and social services, and the further development of secure, public access wi-fi.

Julian Thomas, Director, Social Change Enabling Capability Platform, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.