A tale of two media reports: one poses challenges for digital media; the other gives ABC and SBS a clean bill of health



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The competitive neutrality report has given the ABC, and SBS, a clean bill of health.
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Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

Two reports out this week – one into the operations of Facebook and Google, the other into the competitive neutrality of the ABC and SBS – present the federal government with significant policy and political challenges.

The first is by far the more important of the two.

It is the interim report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission of its Digital Platforms Inquiry, and in a set of 11 preliminary recommendations it proposes far-reaching changes to media regulation.

Of particular interest are its preliminary recommendations for sustaining journalism and news content.

These are based on the premise that there is a symbiotic relationship between news organisations and the big digital platforms. Put simply, the news organisations depend heavily on these platforms to get their news out to their audiences.

The problem, the ACCC says, is that the way news stories are ranked and displayed on the platforms is opaque. All we know – or think we know – is that these decisions are made by algorithms.




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The ACCC says this lack of transparency causes concerns that the algorithms and other policies of the platform giants may be operating in a way that affects the production of news and journalistic content.

To respond to this concern, the preliminary recommendation is for a new regulatory authority to be established. It would have the power to peer into these algorithms and monitor, investigate and report on how content – including news content – is ranked and displayed.

The purpose would be to identify the effects of the algorithms and other policies on the production of news and journalistic content.

It would also allow the authority to assess the impact on the incentives for news and journalistic content creation, particularly where news organisations have invested a lot of time and money in producing original content.

In this way, the ACCC is clearly trying to protect and promote the production of public-interest journalism, which is expensive but vital to democratic life. It is how the powerful are held to account, how wrongdoing is uncovered, and how the public finds out what is going on inside forums such as the courts and local councils.

So far, the big news media organisations have concentrated on these aspects of the ACCC interim report and have expressed support for them.

However, there are two other aspects of the report on which their response has been muted.

The first of these is the preliminary recommendation that proposes a media regulatory framework that would cover all media content, including news content, on all systems of distribution – print, broadcast and online.

The ACCC recommends that the government commission a separate independent review to design such a framework. The framework would establish underlying principles of accountability, set boundaries around what should be regulated and how, set rules for classifying different types of content, and devise appropriate enforcement mechanisms.

Much of this work has already been attempted by earlier federal government inquiries – the Finkelstein inquiry and the Convergence Review – both of which produced reports for the Gillard Labor government in 2012.

Their proposals for an overarching regulatory regime for all types of media generated a hysterical backlash from the commercial media companies, who accused the authors of acting like Stalin, Mao, or the Kim clan in North Korea.

So if the government adopts this recommendation from the ACCC, the people doing the design work can expect some heavy flak from big commercial media.

The other aspect of the ACCC report that is likely to provoke a backlash from the media is a preliminary recommendation concerning personal privacy.

Here the ACCC proposes that the government adopt a 2014 recommendation of the Australian Law Reform Commission that people be given the right to sue for serious invasions of privacy.

The media have been on notice over privacy invasion for many years. As far back as 2001, the High Court developed a test of privacy in a case involving the ABC and an abattoir company called Lenah Game Meats.

Now, given the impact on privacy of Facebook and Google, the ACCC has come to the view that the time has arrived to revisit this issue.

The ACCC’s interim report is one of the most consequential documents affecting media policy in Australia for many decades.

The same cannot be said of the other media-related report published this week: that of the inquiry into the competitive neutrality of the public-sector broadcasters, the ABC and SBS.

This inquiry was established in May this year to make good on a promise made by Malcolm Turnbull to Pauline Hanson in 2017.




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He needed One Nation’s support for the government’s changes to media ownership laws, without which they would not have passed the Senate.

Hanson was not promised any particular focus for the inquiry, so the government dressed it up in the dull raiment of competitive neutrality.

While it had the potential to do real mischief – in particular to the ABC – the report actually gives both public broadcasters a clean bill of health.

There are a couple of minor caveats concerning transparency about how they approach the issue of fair competition, but overall the inquiry finds that the ABC and SBS are operating properly within their charters. Therefore, by definition, they are acting in the public interest.

This has caused pursed lips at News Corp which, along with the rest of the commercial media, took this opportunity to have a free kick at the national broadcasters. But in the present political climate, the issue is likely to vanish without trace.

While the government still has an efficiency review of the ABC to release, it also confronts a political timetable and a set of the opinion polls calculated to discourage it from opening up another row over the ABC.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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ACCC wants to curb digital platform power – but enforcement is tricky


Katharine Kemp, UNSW

We need new laws to monitor and curb the power wielded by Google, Facebook and other powerful digital platforms, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The Preliminary Report on the Digital Platforms Inquiry found major changes to privacy and consumer protection laws are needed, along with alterations to merger law, and a regulator to investigate the operation of the companies’ algorithms.

Getting the enforcement right will be key to the success of these proposed changes.




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Digital platforms. Why the ACCC’s proposals for Google and Facebook matter big time


Scrutinising accumulation of market power

The report says Google and Facebook each possess substantial power in markets such as online search and social media services in Australia.

It’s not against the law to possess substantial market power alone. But these companies would breach our November 2017 misuse of market power law if they engaged in any conduct with the effect, likely effect or purpose of substantially lessening competition – essentially, blocking rivalry in a market.

Moving forwards, the ACCC has indicated it will scrutinise the accumulation of market power by these platforms more proactively. Noting that “strategic acquisitions by both Google and Facebook have contributed to the market power they currently hold”, the ACCC says it intends to ask large digital platforms to provide advance notice of any planned acquisitions.

While such pre-notification of certain mergers is required in jurisdictions such as the US, it is not currently a requirement in other sectors under the Australian law.

At the moment the ACCC is just asking the platforms to do this voluntarily – but has indicated it may seek to make this a formal requirement if the platforms don’t cooperate with the request. It’s not currently clear how this would be enforced.

The ACCC has also recommended the standard for assessing mergers should be amended to expressly clarify the relevance of data acquired in the transaction as well as the removal of potential competitors.

The law doesn’t explicitly refer to potential competitors in addition to existing competitors at present, and some argue platforms are buying up nascent competitors before the competitive threat becomes apparent.




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A regulator to monitor algorithms

According to the ACCC, there is a “lack of transparency” in Google’s and Facebook’s arrangements concerning online advertising and content, which are largely governed by algorithms developed and owned by the companies. These algorithms – essentially a complex set of instructions in the software – determine what ads, search results and news we see, and in what order.

The problem is nobody outside these companies knows how they work or whether they’re producing results that are fair to online advertisers, content producers and consumers.

The report recommends a regulatory authority be given power to monitor, investigate and publish reports on the operation of these algorithms, among other things, to determine whether they are producing unfair or discriminatory results. This would only apply to companies that generate more than A$100 million per annum from digital advertising in Australia.




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These algorithms have come under scrutiny elsewhere. The European Commission has previously fined Google €2.42 billion for giving unfair preference to its own shopping comparison services in its search results, relative to rival comparison services, thereby contravening the EU law against abuse of dominance. This decision has been criticised though, for failing to provide Google with a clear way of complying with the law.

The important questions following the ACCC’s recommendation are:

  • what will the regulator do with the results of its investigations?
  • if it determines that the algorithm is producing discriminatory results, will it tell the platform what kind of results it should achieve instead, or will it require direct changes to the algorithm?

The ACCC has not recommended the regulator have the power to make such orders. It seems the most the regulator would do is introduce some “sunshine” to the impacts of these algorithms which are currently hidden from view, and potentially refer the matter to the ACCC for investigation if this was perceived to amount to a misuse of market power.

If a digital platform discriminates against competitive businesses that rely on its platform – say, app developers or comparison services – so that rivalry is stymied, this could be an important test case under our misuse of market power law. This law was amended in 2017 to address longstanding weaknesses but has not yet been tested in the courts.




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Privacy and fairness for consumers

The report recommends substantial changes to the Privacy Act and Australian Consumer Law to reduce the power imbalance between the platforms and consumers.

We know from research that most Australians don’t read online privacy policies; many say they don’t understand the privacy terms offered to them, or they feel they have no choice but to accept them. Two thirds say they want more say in how their personal information is used.

The solutions proposed by the ACCC include:

  • strengthening the consent required under our privacy law, requiring it to be express (it may currently be implied), opt-in, adequately informed, voluntary and specific
  • allowing consumers to require their personal data to be erased in certain circumstances
  • increasing penalties for breaches of the Privacy Act
  • introducing a statutory cause of action for serious invasion of privacy in Australia.



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This last recommendation was previously made by the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2014 and 2008, and would finally allow individuals in Australia to sue for harm suffered as a result of such an invasion.

If consent is to be voluntary and specific, companies should not be allowed to “bundle” consents for a number of uses and collections (both necessary and unnecessary) and require consumers to consent to all or none. These are important steps in addressing the unfairness of current data privacy practices.

Together these changes would bring Australia a little closer to the stronger data protection offered in the EU under the General Data Protection Regulation.

But the effectiveness of these changes would depend to a large extent on whether the government would also agree to improve funding and support for the federal privacy regulator, which has been criticised as passive and underfunded.

Another recommended change to consumer protection law would make it illegal to include unfair terms in consumer contracts and impose fines for such a contravention. Currently, for a first-time unfair contract terms “offender”, a court could only “draw a line” through the unfair term such that the company could not force the consumer to comply with it.

Making such terms illegal would increase incentives for companies drafting standard form contracts to make sure they do not include detrimental terms which create a significant imbalance between them and their customers, which are not reasonably necessary to protect their legitimate interests.




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The ACCC might also take action on these standard terms under our misleading and deceptive conduct laws. The Italian competition watchdog last week fined Facebook €10 million for conduct including misleading users about the extent of its data collection and practices.

The ACCC appears to be considering the possibility of even broader laws against “unfair” practices, which regulators like the US Federal Trade Commission have used against bad data practices.

Final report in June 2019

As well as 11 recommendations, the report mentions nine areas for “further analysis and assessment” which in itself reflects the complexity of the issues facing the ACCC.

The ACCC is seeking responses and feedback from stakeholders on the preliminary report, before creating a final report in June 2019.

Watch this space – or google it.




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The Conversation


Katharine Kemp, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UNSW, and Co-Leader, ‘Data as a Source of Market Power’ Research Stream of The Allens Hub for Technology, Law and Innovation, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Digital platforms. Why the ACCC’s proposals for Google and Facebook matter big time


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The Competition and Consumer Commission is worried about the ability of the platforms we use to determine the news we read.
Shutterstock

Sacha Molitorisz, University of Technology Sydney and Derek Wilding, University of Technology Sydney

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has released the preliminary report of its Digital Platforms Inquiry, and Google and Facebook won’t be happy.

Rather than adopting a gently-gently approach, the ACCC has produced draft recommendations that are extensive and dramatic.

If implemented, they would significantly affect the way the digital platforms make their money, and help direct the content we consume.

What’s more, the inquiry is touted as a world first. Its findings will be closely monitored, and perhaps even adopted, by regulators internationally.

Who should care?

The digital platforms themselves should (and do) care.

Any new regulations designed to foster competition or protect individual privacy (both are among the ACCC’s recommendations) have the potential to harm their revenues.

They’ve a lot to lose. In 2017, nearly A$8 billion was spent on online advertising in Australia, and more than half went to Google and Facebook (p3).

News organisations whose output is disseminated by those platforms should (and do) care too.

As the ACCC notes, more than half of the traffic on Australian news websites comes via Google and Facebook (p8).




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Increasingly, news producers depend on social media and search engines to connect with consumers. Google is used for 95% of searches (98% on mobile devices).

The rise of Google, Facebook and other digital platforms has been accompanied by unprecedented pressures on traditional news organisations.

Most obviously, classified advertising revenue has been unbundled from newspapers.

In 2001, classified advertising revenue stood at A$2 billion. By 2016, it had fallen to A$200 million. The future of newspapers’ ability to produce news is under a cloud, and digital platforms help control the weather.

Of course, advertisers care too.

But the stakeholders with the most to gain or lose are us, Australian citizens.




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Our lives are mediated by Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Twitter and others as never before. Google answers our search queries; Facebook hosts friends’ baby snaps; YouTube (owned by Google) distributes professional and user-generated videos; Instagram (owned by Facebook) hosts our holiday snaps.

As the ACCC notes, they have given us tremendous benefits, for minimal (apparent) cost.

And they’ve done it at lightning speed. Google arrived in 1998, Facebook in 2004 and Twitter in 2006. They are mediating what comes before our eyes in ways we don’t understand and (because they keep their algorithms secret) in ways we can’t understand.

What does the ACCC recommend?

The ACCC’s preliminary recommendations are far-reaching and bold.

First, it suggests an independent review to address the inadequacy of current media regulatory frameworks.

This would be a separate, independent inquiry to “design a regulatory framework that is able to effectively and consistently regulate the conduct of all entities which perform comparable functions in the production and delivery of content in Australia, including news and journalistic content, whether they are publishers, broadcasters, other media businesses, or digital platforms”.

This is a commendable and urgent proposal. Last year, cross-media ownership laws were repealed as anachronistic in a digital age. To protect media diversity and plurality, the government needs to revisit the issue of regulatory frameworks.




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Second, it proposes privacy safeguards. Privacy in Australia is dangerously under-protected. Digital platforms such as Google and Facebook generate revenue by knowing their users and targeting advertising with an accuracy unseen in human history.

As the ACCC puts it, “the current regulatory framework, including privacy laws, does not effectively deter certain data practices that exploit the information asymmetries and the bargaining power imbalances that exist between digital platforms and consumers.”

It makes a number of specific preliminary recommendations, including creating a right to erasure and the requirement of “express, opt-in consent”.

It also supports the creation of a civil right to sue for serious invasions of privacy, as recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission.

Australians lack the protections that Americans enjoy under the US Bill of Rights; we certainly lack the protection afforded under Europe’s sweeping new privacy law.




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It wants the penalties for breaches of our existing Privacy Act increased. It recommends the creation of a third-party certification scheme, which would enable the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner to give complying bodies a “privacy seal or mark”.

And it wants a new or existing organisation to monitor attempts by vertically-integrated platforms such as Google to favour their own businesses. This would happen where Google gives prominence in search results to products sold through Google platforms, or prominence to stories from organisations with which it has a commercial relationship.

The organisation would oversee platforms that generate more than A$100 million annually, and which disseminate news, or hyperlinks to news, or snippets of news.

It would investigate complaints and even initiate its own investigations in order to understand how digital platforms are disseminating news and journalistic content and advertising.

As it notes,

The algorithms operated by each of Google and Facebook, as well as other policies, determine which content is surfaced and displayed to consumers in news feed and search results. However, the operation of these algorithms and other policies determining the surfacing of content remain opaque. (p10)

It makes other recommendations, touching on areas including merger law, pre-installed browsers and search engines, takedown procedures for copyright-infringing content, implementing a code of practice for digital platforms and changing the parts of Australian consumer law that deal with unfair contract terms.

Apart from its preliminary recommendations, there are further areas on which it invites comment and suggestions.




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These include giving media organisations tax offsets for producing public interest news, and making subscribing to news publications tax deductible for consumers.

Platforms could be brought into a co-regulatory system for flagging content that is subject to quality control, creating their own quality mark. And a new ombudsman could deal with consumer complaints about scams, misleading advertising and the ranking of news content.

All of these recommendations and areas of interest will generate considerable debate.

What’s next?

The ACCC will accept submissions in response to its preliminary report until February 15.

At the Centre for Media Transition, we played a background role in one aspect of this inquiry.

Earlier this year, we were commissioned by the ACCC to prepare a report on the impact of digital platforms on news and journalistic content. It too was published on Monday.

Our findings overlap with the ACCC on some points, and diverge on others.




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Many thorny questions remain, but one point is clear: the current regime that oversees digital platforms is woefully inadequate. Right now, as the ACCC notes, digital platforms are largely unregulated.

New ways of thinking are needed. A mix of old laws (or no laws) and new media spells trouble.The Conversation

Sacha Molitorisz, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Media Transition, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney and Derek Wilding, Co-Director, Centre for Media Transition, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Travelling overseas? What to do if a border agent demands access to your digital device



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New laws enacted in New Zealand give customs agents the right to search your phone.
Shutterstock

Katina Michael, Arizona State University

New laws enacted in New Zealand this month give border agents the right to demand travellers entering the country hand over passwords for their digital devices. We outline what you should do if it happens to you, in the first part of a series exploring how technology is changing tourism.


Imagine returning home to Australia or New Zealand after a long-haul flight, exhausted and red-eyed. You’ve just reclaimed your baggage after getting through immigration when you’re stopped by a customs officer who demands you hand over your smartphone and the password. Do you know your rights?

Both Australian and New Zealand customs officers are legally allowed to search not only your personal baggage, but also the contents of your smartphone, tablet or laptop. It doesn’t matter whether you are a citizen or visitor, or whether you’re crossing a border by air, land or sea.




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New laws that came into effect in New Zealand on October 1 give border agents:

…the power to make a full search of a stored value instrument (including power to require a user of the instrument to provide access information and other information or assistance that is reasonable and necessary to allow a person to access the instrument).

Those who don’t comply could face prosecution and NZ$5,000 in fines. Border agents have similar powers in Australia and elsewhere. In Canada, for example, hindering or obstructing a border guard could cost you up to C$50,000 or five years in prison.

A growing trend

Australia and New Zealand don’t currently publish data on these kinds of searches, but there is a growing trend of device search and seizure at US borders. There was a more than fivefold increase in the number of electronic device inspections between 2015 and 2016 – bringing the total number to 23,000 per year. In the first six months of 2017, the number of searches was already almost 15,000.

In some of these instances, people have been threatened with arrest if they didn’t hand over passwords. Others have been charged. In cases where they did comply, people have lost sight of their device for a short period, or devices were confiscated and returned days or weeks later.




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On top of device searches, there is also canvassing of social media accounts. In 2016, the United States introduced an additional question on online visa application forms, asking people to divulge social media usernames. As this form is usually filled out after the flights have been booked, travellers might feel they have no choice but to part with this information rather than risk being denied a visa, despite the question being optional.

There is little oversight

Border agents may have a legitimate reason to search an incoming passenger – for instance, if a passenger is suspected of carrying illicit goods, banned items, or agricultural products from abroad.

But searching a smartphone is different from searching luggage. Our smartphones carry our innermost thoughts, intimate pictures, sensitive workplace documents, and private messages.

The practice of searching electronic devices at borders could be compared to police having the right to intercept private communications. But in such cases in Australia, police require a warrant to conduct the intercept. That means there is oversight, and a mechanism in place to guard against abuse. And the suspected crime must be proportionate to the action taken by law enforcement.

What to do if it happens to you

If you’re stopped at a border and asked to hand over your devices and passwords, make sure you have educated yourself in advance about your rights in the country you’re entering.

Find out whether what you are being asked is optional or not. Just because someone in a uniform asks you to do something, it does not necessarily mean you have to comply. If you’re not sure about your rights, ask to speak to a lawyer and don’t say anything that might incriminate you. Keep your cool and don’t argue with the customs officer.




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You should also be smart about how you manage your data generally. You may wish to switch on two-factor authentication, which requires a password on top of your passcode. And store sensitive information in the cloud on a secure European server while you are travelling, accessing it only on a needs basis. Data protection is taken more seriously in the European Union as a result of the recently enacted General Data Protection Regulation.

Microsoft, Apple and Google all indicate that handing over a password to one of their apps or devices is in breach of their services agreement, privacy management, and safety practices. That doesn’t mean it’s wise to refuse to comply with border force officials, but it does raise questions about the position governments are putting travellers in when they ask for this kind of information.The Conversation

Katina Michael, Professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society & School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering, Arizona State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Digital government isn’t working in the developing world. Here’s why



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Digital government is primarily a social and political phenomenon driven by human behaviour.
Shutterstock

Rania Fakhoury, Université Libanaise

The digital transformation of society has brought many immediate benefits: it’s created new jobs and services, boosted efficiency and promoted innovation. But when it comes to improving the way we govern, the story is not that simple.

It seems reasonable to imagine introducing digital information and communication technologies into public sector organisations – known as “digital government” or “e-government” – would have a beneficial impact on the way public services are delivered. For instance, by enabling people to claim rebates for medical bills via a government website.

When implemented well, e-government can reduce the cost of delivering government and public services, and ensure better contact with citizens – especially in remote or less densely populated areas. It can also contribute to greater transparency and accountability in public decisions, stimulate the emergence of local e-cultures, and strengthen democracy.




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But implementing e-government is difficult and uptake among citizens can be slow. While Denmark – the number one ranked country in online service delivery in 2018 – sees 89% of its citizens using e-services, many other countries are struggling. In Egypt, for example, uptake of e-services is just 2%.

E-Government Development Index (EGDI) of global regions in 2018.
United Nations E-Government Survey 2018

I argue the implementation of digital government is a intractable problem for developing countries. But there are small steps we can take right now to make the issues more manageable.

Few digital government projects succeed

The nature of government is complex and deeply rooted in the interactions among social, political, economic, organisational and global systems. At the same time, technology is itself a source of complexity – its impacts, benefits and limitations are not yet widely understood by stakeholders.

Given this complexity, it’s not uncommon for many digital government projects to fail, and not just in the developing world. In fact, 30% of projects are total failures. Another 50-60% are partial failures, due to budget overruns and missed timing targets. Fewer than 20% are considered a success.

In 2016, government spending on technology worldwide was around US$430 billion, with a forecast of US$476 billion by 2020. Failure rates for these kinds of projects are therefore a major concern.

What’s gone wrong in developing countries?

A major factor contributing to the failure of most digital government efforts in developing countries has been the “project management” approach. For too long, government and donors saw the introduction of digital services as a stand-alone “technical engineering” problem, separate from government policy and internal government processes.

But while digital government has important technical aspects, it’s primarily a social and political phenomenon driven by human behaviour – and it’s specific to the local political and the country context.

Change therefore depends mainly upon “culture change” – a long and difficult process that requires public servants to engage with new technologies. They must also change the way they regard their jobs, their mission, their activities and their interaction with citizens.




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In developing countries, demand for e-services is lacking, both inside and outside the government. External demand from citizens is often silenced by popular cynicism about the public sector, and by inadequate channels for communicating demand. As a result, public sector leaders feel too little pressure from citizens for change.

For example, Vietnam’s attempt in 2004 to introduce an Education Management Information System (EMIS) to track school attendance, among other things, was cancelled due to lack of buy-in from political leaders and senior officials.

Designing and managing a digital government program also requires a high level of administrative capacity. But developing countries most in need of digital government are also the ones with the least capacity to manage the process thus creating a risk of “administrative overload”.

How can we start to solve this problem?

Approaches to digital government in developing countries should emphasise the following elements.

Local leadership and ownership

In developing countries, most donor driven e-government projects attempt to transplant what was successful elsewhere, without adapting to the local culture, and without adequate support from those who might benefit from the service.

Of the roughly 530 information technology projects funded by the World Bank from 1995 to 2015, 27% were evaluated as moderately unsatisfactory or worse.

The swiftest solution for change is to ensure projects have buy-in from locals – both governments and citizens alike.

Public sector reform

Government policy, reflected in legislation, regulations and social programs, must be reformulated to adapt to new digital tools.

The success of digital government in Nordic countries results from extensive public sector reforms. In the United States, investments in information technology by police departments, which lowered crime rates, were powered by significant organisational changes.

In developing countries, little progress has been made in the last two decades in reforming the public sector.

Accept that change will be slow

Perhaps the most easily overlooked lesson about digital government is that it takes a long time to achieve the fundamental digitisation of a public sector. Many developing countries are attempting to achieve in the space of a few decades what took centuries in what is now the developed world. The Canadian International Development Agency found:

In Great Britain, for example, it was only in 1854 that a series of reforms
was launched aimed at constructing a merit-based public service shaped by rule of law. It took a further 30 years to eliminate patronage as the modus operandi of public sector staffing.




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Looking to the future

Effective strategies for addressing the problem of e-government in developing countries should combine technical infrastructure with social, organisational and policy change.

The best way forward is to acknowledge the complexities inherent in digital government and to break them into more manageable components. At the same time, we must engage citizens and leaders alike to define social and economic values.

Local leaders in developing countries, and their donor partners, require a long-term perspective. Fundamental digital government reform demands sustained effort, commitment and leadership over many generations. Taking the long view is therefore an essential part of a global socio-economic plan.The Conversation

Rania Fakhoury, Chercheur associé à LaRIFA, Université Libanaise

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Use this app twice daily’: how digital tools are revolutionising patient care



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New electronic devices are being used by people of all ages to track activity, measure sleep and record nutrition.
Shutterstock

Caleb Ferguson, Western Sydney University; Debra Jackson, University of Technology Sydney, and Louise Hickman, University of Technology Sydney

Imagine you’ve recently had a heart attack.

You’re a lucky survivor. You’ve received high-quality care from nurses and doctors whilst in hospital and you’re now preparing to go home with the support of your family.

The doctors have made it clear that the situation is grim. It’s a case of: change your lifestyle or die. You’ve got to stop smoking, increase your physical activity, eat a healthy balanced diet (whilst reducing your salt), and make sure you take all your medicine as prescribed.




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But before you leave the hospital, the cardiology nurse wants to talk to you. There are a few apps you can download on your smartphone that will help you manage your recovery, including the transition from hospital to home and all the health-related behavioural changes necessary to reduce the risk of another heart attack.

Rapid advancements in digital technologies are revolutionising healthcare. The benefits are numerous, but the rate of development is difficult to keep up with. And that’s creating challenges for both healthcare professionals and patients.

What are digital therapeutics?

Digital therapeutics can be defined as any intervention that is digitally delivered and has a therapeutic effect on a patient. They can be used to treat medical conditions in a similar way to drugs or surgery.

Current examples of digital therapeutics include apps for managing medications and cardiovascular health, apps to support mental health and well being, or augmented and virtual reality tools for patient education.

Paper-based letters, health records, prescription charts and education pamphlets are outdated. We can now send emails, enter information into electronic databases and access electronic medication charts.

And patient education is no longer a static, one-way communication. The digital revolution facilitates dynamic and personalised education, and a two-way interaction between patient and therapist.

How do digital therapeutics help?

Digital health care improves overall quality of care, even in cases where a patient lives hundreds of kilometres away from their doctor.

Take diabetes for example. This condition affects 1.7 million Australians. It’s a major risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease and stroke. So it’s important that people with diabetes manage their condition to reduce their risk.

A recent study evaluated a team-based online game, which was delivered by an app to provide diabetes self-management education. The participants who received the app in this trial had meaningful and sustained improvements in their diabetes, as measured by their HbA1c (blood glucose levels).

App based games of this kind hold promise to improve chronic disease outcomes at scale.

New electronic devices are also being used by people of all ages to track activity, measure sleep and record nutrition. This information provides instant and accurate feedback to individuals and their therapists, allowing for adjustments where necessary. The logged information can also be combined into large data sets to reveal patterns over time and inform future treatments.




Read more:
How virtual reality spiders are helping people face their arachnophobia


Digital therapeutics are spawning a new language within the healthcare industry. “Connected health” reflects the increasingly digital ways clinicians and patients communicate. A few examples include text messaging, telehealth, and video consultations with health professionals.

There is increasing evidence that digitally delivered care (including apps and text message based interventions) can be good for your health and can help you manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

But not all health apps are the same

Whilst the digital health revolution is exciting, results of research studies should be carefully interpreted by patients and providers.

Innovation has led to 325,000 mobile health apps available in 2017. This raises significant governance issues relating to patient safety (including data protection) when using digital therapeutics.

A recent review identified that most studies have a relatively short duration of intervention and only reflect short-term follow up with participants. The long-term effect of these new therapeutic interventions remains largely unknown.

The current speed of technological development means the usual safety mechanisms face new ethical and regulatory challenges. Who is doing the prescribing? Who is responsible for the efficacy, storage and accuracy of data? How are these technologies being integrated into existing care systems?

Digital health needs a collaborative approach

Digital health presents seismic disruption to patient care, particularly when new technologies are cheap and readily accessible to patients who might lack the insight required to recognise normality or cause for alarm. Technology can be enabling and empowering for self management, however there’s a lot more needs to be done to link these new technologies into the current health system.

Take the new Apple Watch functionality of heart rate notifications for example. Research like the Apple Heart Study suggests this exciting innovation could lead to significantly improved detection rates of heart rhythm disorders, and enhanced stroke prevention efforts.

But when a patient receives a high heart rate notification, what should they do? Ignore it? Go to a GP? Head straight to the emergency department? And, what is the flow on impact on the health system?




Read more:
Why virtual reality won’t replace cadavers in medical school


Many of these questions remain unanswered suggesting there is an urgent need for research that examines how technology is implemented into existing healthcare systems.

The ConversationIf we are to produce useful digital therapeutics for real-world problems, then it is critical that the end-users are engaged in the process. Patients and healthcare professionals will need to work with software developers to design applications that meet the complex healthcare needs of patients.

Caleb Ferguson, Senior Research Fellow, Western Sydney University; Debra Jackson, Professor, University of Technology Sydney, and Louise Hickman, Associate Professor of Nursing, University of Technology Sydney

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

A new levy on digital giants like Google, Facebook and eBay is a step towards a fairer way of taxing


Antony Ting, University of Sydney

The government is reportedly considering a new tax on the digital economy. While no details of the tax are available yet, the digital services tax recently proposed by the European Commission may give us an idea what the tax might look like.

In essence, the proposal will impose a 3% tax on the turnover of large digital economy companies in the European Union. Similar ideas have been suggested in the UK and France.

The current international tax system was designed before internet was invented, so this new tax is a response to this problem. Under the current system, a foreign company will not be subject to income tax in Australia unless it has a significant physical presence in the country. The key word here is “physical”.

It is well known that modern multinationals such as Google can derive substantial revenue and profits from Australia without significant physical presence here. It is no surprise that this 20th-century tax principle struggles to deal with the 21st-century economy.

This problem is well known but the solution is far more elusive.

Attempts to tax digital companies

The best solution in response to the rise of the digital economy is to reword the laws to take more into account than the “physical” presence of a company in the international tax regime. However, this reform would require international consensus on a new set of rules to allocate the taxing rights on the profits of multinationals among different countries.

In particular, it would mean more taxing rights for source countries where the revenue is generated. The formidable political resistance is not difficult to imagine.

The OECD has attempted to address this fundamental issue, but in vain so far. Its report on the taxation of digital economy in the Base Erosion Profit Shifting project did not provide any recommendation to improve the system at all. The recent report on its continuing work on the digital economy again shows little progress.

While the EU also recognises that the long-term solution should be a major reform of the international tax regime, the slow progress of the OECD’s effort is seriously testing the patience of many countries. Therefore, the EU has proposed the digital services tax as an “interim” measure.

Google as an example

The Senate enquiry into corporate tax avoidance revealed that Google is deriving billions of dollars of revenue every year from Australia but has been paying very little tax. In particular, the revenue reported to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission in Australia in 2015 was less than A$500 million, with net profits of A$47 million.

The government responded by introducing the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law in 2016, targeting the particular tax structures used by multinational enterprises such as Google.

Google Australia’s 2016 annual report states that the company has restructured its business. Though not stated explicitly, the restructure was most likely undertaken in response to the introduction of this law.

As a result of the restructure, both revenue and net profits of Google Australia increased by 2.2 times.

However, here is the bad news. Though Google has reported significantly more profits in Australia, the profit margins of the local company remain very low compared to its worldwide group. For example, the net profit margin of Google Australia was 9% while that of the group was 22%.

Of course, a business may have different profit margins in different countries for genuine commercial reasons. However, based on our understanding of the tax structures of these multinationals, it’s likely that significant amounts of profits are booked in low-tax or even zero-tax jurisdictions.

This example suggests that while the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law is achieving its objectives, it alone is unlikely to be enough.

A digital services tax in Australia

The digital services tax is a turnover tax, not an income tax. This circumvents the restrictions imposed by the current international income tax regime.

The targets of this tax include income of large multinationals from providing advertising space (for example, Google), trading platforms (for example, eBay) and the transmission of data collected about users (for example, Facebook).

If Australia follows the model of the digital services tax, the new tax may generate substantial amount of revenue. For example, Google Australia’s revenue reported in its 2016 annual report was A$1.1 billion. A 3% tax on that amount would be A$33 million.

Along with the digital services tax proposal, the EU proposed the concept of “significant digital presence” as the long-term solution for the international tax system. The exact details are subject to further consultation. However, the relevant factors may include a company’s annual revenue from digital services, the number of users of such services, and the number of online contracts concluded on the platform.

The ConversationThe destiny of this proposal is unclear, but it’s likely to be subject to fierce debate among countries. In any case, the proposals of the digital services tax and the digital presence concept suggest there may be a paradigm shift in the thinking of tax policymakers in response to the challenges imposed by the digital economy that would be difficult, if not impossible, to resist.

Antony Ting, Associate Professor, University of Sydney

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.

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


Ashley Schram, Australian National University; Fran Baum, Flinders University; Matt Fisher, Flinders University; Patrick Harris, University of Sydney; Sharon Friel, Australian National University, and Toby Freeman, Flinders University

The National Broadband Network (NBN) is widely considered to be failing Australians, but it isn’t failing them equally.

Our research, undertaken at the Centre for Research Excellence in the Social Determinants of Health Equity, seeks to address health inequities by looking at the geographical distribution of infrastructure, including digital technology.

Examining the rollout of NBN technologies as of December 2016, our preliminary analyses suggest areas of greatest socio-economic disadvantage overlap with regions typically receiving NBN infrastructure of poorer quality.

Comparing NBN technology with inequality

To determine socio-economic disadvantage, we used the Australian Bureau of Statistics’s (ABS) socio-economic indexes for area (SEIFA) and its index of relative socio-economic advantage and disadvantage (IRSD) from 2011.

Across Australia, we found only 29% of areas with a SEIFA decile of one (the lowest-scoring 10% of areas) had fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) – considered the best broadband technology solution available – or fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) connections. So far, around 71% of the NBN technology available in these areas involves inferior options, including hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC), fixed wireless or satellite technologies.

On the other hand, 93% of areas with a SEIFA decile of 10 (the highest-scoring 10% of areas) had FTTP or FTTN.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/OwWJf/4/

This result tells a similar story to an early analysis by Sydney University’s Tooran Alizadeh of 60 NBN release sites that were announced in 2011. She found some of the most disadvantaged areas of Australia were not gaining equal access to the new infrastructure.

If we look only at major cities in Australia – where the level of fibre technology is higher overall – areas with the greatest disadvantage, while exceeding similarly disadvantaged areas nationally, still received significantly less FTTP and FTTN: 65% of areas with a SEIFA decile of one had FTTP and FTTN, compared with 94% of areas with a SEIFA decile of 10.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/qHHxv/3/

Of course Australia is a large, sparsely populated country, which makes the business case for rolling out fibre difficult in some regions. Nevertheless, inequitable access to NBN technology appears even when controlling for the remoteness of the location.

If we look at outer regional Australia where fibre is less prevalent, the pattern looks worse. Only 12% of the most disadvantaged areas with a SEIFA decile of one received FTTP and FTTN, compared with 88% of the most advantaged outer regional areas with a SEIFA decile of nine.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/zc1NF/4/

Receiving FTTP or even FTTN may still be better than receiving HFC, fixed wireless or satellite technologies. While HFC may be able to match maximum speeds of FTTN, this is unlikely to happen during peak times when the increased number of users sharing the same data capacity will slow service considerably. And, similar to FTTN, these technologies provide fewer opportunities to upgrade capacity to meet future demand.

However, given only a limited data set was made publicly available in December 2016 by the NBN company, it is difficult to determine exactly which services are currently installed where. For example, the data set we used does not differentiate between FTTP and the lesser FTTN connection.

It also aggregates some NBN technology into an “other” category, making it impossible to distinguish between HFC and satellite service.



Various/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

The NBN company offers a “check your address” search for its most up-to-date rollout information including technology type, but was unable to share this information with us in a single, usable data set.

A NBN spokesperson said the network was being rolled out across Australia regardless of any socio-economic mapping.

“Determining the sequence is a complex process of weighing up factors including the location of construction resources, current service levels, existing broadband infrastructure, growth forecasts and proximity to nbn infrastructure such as the transit network,” she said in an email. “Only 8 per cent of premises in Australia are not in the fixed-line footprint.”

Internet access and social inequity

A faster internet connection is increasingly central to people’s social connections, education opportunities, employment prospects and ability to access services.

This was raised in a 2011 report by the parliamentary Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications. It emphasised the potential role of the NBN in enhancing greater equity in digital access to services in regional and rural areas.

The Committee heard that, due to the ‘digital divide’, many of the Australians who could benefit the most from broadband currently have the lowest levels of online participation … The extent of accompanying measures implemented by governments will determine whether the NBN narrows or widens this digital divide.

Previous research has also found that people from lower socioeconomic groups are already restricted in their use of digital information and communication technologies. This can limit their access to a range of social determinants of health.

When populations already facing disadvantage receive poorer quality digital infrastructure, those with the greatest need will continue to slip farther behind.

Equity must be at the forefront of the NBN company’s considerations as it continues to roll out across Australia. Further entrenching social inequities through digital infrastructure is not the NBN anyone dreamed of.


The ConversationNote: The “contention rate” section of the NBN technology infographic on this story has been updated to improve clarity.

Ashley Schram, Research Fellow, School of Regulation and Global Governance, Australian National University; Fran Baum, Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor, Foundation Director, Southgate Institute for Health, Society & Equity, Flinders University; Matt Fisher, Research Fellow in social determinants of health, Flinders University; Patrick Harris, Senior Research Fellow, University of Sydney; Sharon Friel, Director, School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) and Professor of Health Equity, ANU, Australian National University, and Toby Freeman, Senior Research Fellow in Health Equity, Flinders University

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

Act now to protect your digital rights, Big Brother and his Little Sisters may be watching



File 20170602 25658 xifht4
Do you know who has the rights to access your digital data? And who might be interested in acquiring that information?
West Point-US Military Academy/Flickr , CC BY-NC-ND

Jack Linchuan Qiu, Chinese University of Hong Kong

This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative between The Conversation and the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.


Imagine China takes down its national internet blocking system – aka the Great Firewall – tomorrow. Will this affect how you use the internet?

Without the Great Firewall, Facebook and Google will grow exponentially in China. Before long, the tech giants own a sizeable share of the Chinese market and have become good buddies with Beijing.

This scenario unfolds at a time when Donald Trump’s inward-looking policy upsets Silicon Valley’s efforts to expand its global empire, and when the US Congress further deregulates the internet industry, allowing internet service providers (ISPs), for example, to collect and trade user’s private data. So the tech giants decide to go to bed with China.

What does this have to do with you using your smartphone in, say, Sydney?

Well, if you have a Facebook presence, it means your social network information may now be used in a few additional ways, without your knowledge. Perhaps a few China-bashing news items, shared by your friends, will disappear from your news feed. And if you rely on Google, YouTube, Amazon or Uber, the data you accumulate during your daily routines may now empower not just the Little Sisters (that is, advertising companies), but also Big Brother himself.

“We want to help the rest of the world connect with China.”

According to urban geographer and unionist Kurt Iveson, surveillance cameras at the University of Sydney generate half of the internet traffic on campus. All the research, the paperwork, the social media back-and-forth, the videos people watch and the online games and music they play, all this online traffic, when added together, barely matches the terabytes of information generated by the surveillance feed.

That’s a pretty big achievement for those tiny cameras looking down at you in the corridors and from the street lamps.

The ‘big’ in Big Brother and Big Data

China has big ambitions. Its interests and investments in infrastructure on a global scale are well known. It will only be a matter of time before Beijing realises that digital assets are as vital, perhaps even more valuable, than highways and airports.

The Chinese Communist Party already has a good record of endorsing corporate platforms in the New Economy. Last November, China embraced the “disruptive” innovation of Uber and similar services. It became the first country to legalise the smartphone ride-hailing business on a national scale.

In contrast, Japanese and European cities have long banned Uber from their streets. Australians and Americans continue to debate the ethics and legalities of the start-up service.

In response to the warm embrace, Uber praised China as:

… a country that has consistently shown itself to be forward-thinking when it comes to business innovation.

Now you probably see why Silicon Valley might want to divorce Trump and have an affair behind Tiananmen.

Your digital rights

Maybe it’s not such a good idea, after all, to hastily agree to whatever terms and conditions tech companies hand down to you in tedious fine print. You don’t know your rights. You don’t know who has your data. But do you care?

As an individual, your power is limited. Using a virtual private network (VPN) can be a good start, but which VPN service can you really trust? This is a pertinent question because what if the VPN you use turns out to be a honeypot collecting data about you?

Your best shot, then, is to join a movement – such as a citizen group – to raise awareness or a watchdog organisation that guards against the mishandling of private data by telecommunication companies.

Other good places to seek refuge and spread the good word include non-government organisations that promote solidarity with IT-sector workers and hacker groups who develop new crypto technology. You don’t have to know programming or coding to join them, as even the best hackers will need other kinds of help.

Cities like Sydney have many such organisations. Plenty of folks are working on digital rights issues. Join them to protect your data from being infringed by Big Brother, his Little Sisters, and even telcos and ISPs.

Even if China doesn’t plan to take down its Great Firewall any time soon, that doesn’t make protecting your own data – personal information that reveals so much about your life – any less important.

The ConversationAs long as you have signed over your rights to corporations, they can still sell out big to Beijing, Moscow or whoever else is peeping from afar, at this very moment, into your campus or workplace CCTV system.

Jack Linchuan Qiu, Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Chinese University of Hong Kong

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