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.
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Paper-based letters, health records, prescription charts and education pamphlets are outdated.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.
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?
Many of these questions remain unanswered suggesting there is an urgent need for research that examines how technology is implemented into existing healthcare systems.
If 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
We live in a world of wireless communications, from the early days of radio to new digital television, Wi-Fi and the latest 4G (soon to be 5G) connected smart devices.
But there are limits to this wireless world. With the prediction of 12 billion mobile-connected devices by 2021 and a projected sevenfold increase in wireless traffic, the search is on for any new method of wireless connectivity.
One solution could be right before our very eyes, if only we could see it.
Current wireless connections
All wireless applications – such as mobile communications, Wi-Fi, broadcasting, and sensing – rely on some form of electromagnetic radiation.
The difference between these applications is simply the frequency of the signal (the carrier frequency) used in the electromagnetic radiation.
For example, current mobile phones sold as 3G and 4G operate in the lower microwave frequency bands (850MHz, 1.8GHz, 2-2.5GHz). A wireless local area network such as Wi-Fi operates in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, whereas digital terrestrial television operates at 600-620MHz.
The spectrum of electromagnetic radiation covers a very broad range of frequencies and some of these are selected for specific applications.
These frequency regions are highly contested and valuable resources for wireless applications.
Running out of spectrum
Our current spectrum use in the lower microwave region will soon be heavily congested, even exhausted. It would be difficult to squeeze any more spare spectrum for any wireless application.
To carry an information content on to one of these frequencies, the frequency bands need sufficient bandwidth – the amount of information that can be transmitted – to meet future requirements. At the lower end of the spectrum, there are insufficient bandwidths to meet speeds exceeding gigabits per second.
At the higher end of the spectrum, ionising radiation such as x-rays and gamma rays cannot be used because of safety issues.
Despite current 4G wireless standard promising more shared capacity (1Gb/s), the projected demand and traffic volume already pushes the existing infrastructure to its ultimate limit. The future promise of 5G communication only adds to the problem.
A major rethink of the current wireless technologies is needed to meet these challenging requirements.
Let there be light!
The wireless transmission of optical signals has emerged as a viable option. It offers advantages not possible with current wireless technologies.
Optical wireless promises greater speed, higher throughput, and potentially lower energy consumption. Leveraging on existing optical wired infrastructures (namely optical fibre cables and networks), optical wireless connectivity can provide a seamless high capacity to end-users.
An example would be using optical wireless connectivity inside buildings to complement fibre-to-the-home deployments.
Optical wireless networks would be immune to electromagnetic interference and so could be deployed in radio frequency (RF) sensitive environments. You’ve probably seen those warning signs asking you not to use your mobile phone in hospitals, aircraft and other areas where equipment is sensitive to interference.
Optical wireless communications can be divided into visible light and infrared systems.
And let there be sight
A common issue with both is that devices need to be in the line of sight, as any physical obstruction can result in the loss of transmission. You may have experienced this issue when attempting to change a channel on TV if someone or something gets in the way of your remote.
Visible light communication (VLC) relies on LEDs that are also used for lighting. For example, by flashing LED lights located in the ceiling of a room at a rate much higher than can be discerned by the human eye, information can be conveyed to detectors around the room.
The major limitation of VLC is the limited bandwidth of commercially available white LED (~100 of MHz) that limits the transmission speeds.
Infrared communication systems have ample bandwidth with the potential of transmission tens of Gb/s per user. Despite the major advantage over VLC, the need for line-of-sight has seen this technology under-developed. Until now.
To overcome this we have demonstrated an infrared-based optical wireless communication link that can support a user on the move. By using a pair of access points with some spatial separation, any blockage of beams can be easily overcome as users hop from beam to beam freely.
Optical wireless systems can be built to make sure there is a secure wireless transmission. Using efficient wireless protocols it’s possible to transmit data without any delay and to allow users to move within a building while enjoying high speed wireless coverage.
Optical wireless in action
We will in future be using a range of devices, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) devices, that all require superfast wireless connections.
For example, these new user interfaces are poised to make a big difference to the way museums and galleries will operate in the future. Currently, most of these platforms are linked via wired connections. But wireless interfaces will make them more easy to be used in applications.
The uptake of optical wireless as a viable communications technology can also drive further possibilities of using low-cost optical wireless transceivers to substitute expensive optical fibre rollout in rural and regional broadband contexts.
The integrated transceivers for infrared optical wireless communications are still under development and more effort is needed to speed up such integration efforts. But the researcher teams here and abroad are trying to make advances in the way such systems can be used in realistic scenarios.
Thas Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas, Director – Networked Society Institute and Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Melbourne; Christina Lim, Professor, University of Melbourne, and Elaine Wong, Associate Dean, Diversity and Inclusion, University of Melbourne
Big tech is under fire in Europe. In its latest sting, the European Commission has slapped Google with an eye-watering €4.3 billion (AU$6.8 billion) fine for anti-competitive tying of its Android operating system to its in-house search engine and web browser.
The decision follows the Commission’s €2.4 billion (AU$3.5 billion) fine against the company for giving illegal advantage to its comparison shopping service, just over a year ago.
And the search company is not alone in feeling the heat from Brussels. Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft have all been on the receiving end of what some see as a “techlash” reflecting anti-US bias and protectionism.
So far, US competition authorities have taken a far more restrained approach. The Federal Trade Commission looked into various Google practices in 2012 and found it had no case to raise around search bias. Antitrust officials are instead encouraging vigilance but caution when it comes to intervening in data-driven markets characterised by high rates of innovation.
Closer to home, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is conducting an inquiry into the impact of digital platforms on media and advertising markets. It is attracting intense interest, not just here but abroad. There are also reports of the ACCC separately investigating Google’s data-harvesting practices.
Will the ACCC follow the US or European approach?
It is tempting to speculate about the outcomes of the inquiry in those terms, but to do so would be a mistake.
There are differences in the substantive laws across jurisdictions. The Australian rule on misuse of market power, for example, is not an exact replica of either its US or EU counterpart.
What’s more, the law in any country can only be understood by considering its ideological roots, the political and socio-cultural conditions in which it is shaped, and the institutional framework that determines its application. In other words, history and context matter.
Divergence between the US and European Union on how to deal with large powerful companies is nothing new and, in context, not all that surprising.
In the US competition is about consumer welfare
US antitrust laws were introduced in response to the economic and political power of “big business” and what was seen as a need to protect the “little guy” from a few “robber barons”.
However, since the 1970s, under the influence of the Chicago school, commitment to economic efficiency in the interests of consumer welfare has become the singular goal of antitrust.
In practice, this has meant agencies and courts have stressed a ground rule of trusting markets to self-correct and erring on the side of false negatives rather than false positives. Where there is intervention, it is to protect competition and not competitors.
In recent times, there has been growing dissatisfaction in some circles about the levels of concentration in the US economy and the role that permissive antitrust has played in creating so-called “data-opolies”.
Nevertheless, Chicagoan themes continue to underpin self-restraint on the part of US antitrust agencies, including when it comes to big tech.
In Europe fairness counts too
While EU competition laws are also concerned about the consumer, they are more pluralistic in their approach. This reflects their experience in the aftermath of the second world war, and the single market project.
EU-style antitrust has therefore always been based on – and continues to reflect – more normative values than the US, protecting ideas like economic freedom and fairness.
Fairness in this context, however, is not necessarily about protecting the losers from a legitimate competitive process. It is about protecting the right to equal opportunities for efficient competitors, or merit-based competition on a level playing field.
It is also about ensuring fairness for consumers. Anti-competitive conduct, the European competition boss argues, is unfair because it deprives consumers of the power to arbitrate the marketplace.
Australian competition law has its own flavour
Born in the late 1970s, the modern version of Australian competition law has followed the Chicagoan song sheet, favouring economic efficiency for consumer welfare as its primary purpose.
However, in a relatively small economy, marked by oligopolistic structures and high concentration in key sectors, Australia has always struggled with a balancing act between promoting efficiency and protecting small business.
“Fair competition” (a version of the iconic “fair go”) is a phrase often heard in Australian competition law dialect. But it is not to be confused with propping up inefficient rivals at the expense of competition.
Unlike in many other countries, Australia’s competition rules live within a statute that also has rules to deal separately with ensuring small businesses and consumers are treated fairly.
Under the Competition and Consumer Act, the competition, fair trading and consumer protection provisions are mutually reinforcing. Also unlike in either the US or EU, these provisions are enforced by a single agency, the ACCC.
Distinctive too is that the ACCC is an agency with substantial regulatory responsibilities in areas including communications and infrastructure. These may be relevant in a debate about whether powerful tech companies should be regulated like public utilities on the grounds that they provide services that are essential to consumers.
The ACCC’s inquiry will be holistic
Given this legislative and institutional framework, the ACCC’s take on big tech is likely to be a mix of US and EU approaches with more than a dash of homemade seasoning.
It will consider if platforms have market power, in which markets, and how such power is being exercised. Implications for the price, quality and choice of news for consumers will loom large.
It will consider what impact the proposed consumer right to data may have.
It will also examine whether platforms are providing users with adequate levels of privacy and data protection.
The ACCC will look into whether the large platforms are behaving in a way that dampens innovation and investment incentives for start ups and smaller players.
There will be consideration of whether platforms have an unfair advantage because the regulatory playing field is not even. Regulation of journalistic content and copyright will also come into play.
Most importantly, the inquiry will not be static in its focus. It will have a firm eye on potential long term trends in and impacts of technological change within an Australian context.
Within a broad holistic framework, the ACCC will examine these questions in an integrated way. And will take its time to “get the answers right”.
A version of this article appears on Pursuit. Professor Caron Beaton-Wells will launch a podcast on 26 July about Competition Lore, focusing on the challenges of competition in a digital age. Listen to ACCC Chairman Rod Sims discuss the Digital Platforms Inquiry in episode three of the podcast.
It is no secret people are living longer, thanks to advances in medical technology. Futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts we are approaching a point of breaking even – where for every year lived, science can extend lifespans by at least that much. And more than 80% of Kurzweil’s predictions have so far proved correct.
But length of life and quality of life are not the same thing. For good quality of life as one ages, there must be optimal retirement options. The default is to stay in one’s current home for as long as possible, or downsize. Some will settle into the quiet life of a retirement village on the urban fringes.
But a growing number of retirees who are leading a more active retirement, perhaps still working part-time, want to live closer to the bright lights of the city. It is here that the next generation of retirement living is becoming established in cities around Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the US.
Driving the trend are well-heeled baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) who have been using technology at home and work for years. For some, technology has been integral to their lives. And it seems it might be integral to the future of retirement living.
Vertical retirement communities
The chair of the NSW inquiry into retirement villages, Kathryn Greiner, recently recommended integrating designated seniors’ apartments in medium or high-rise residential developments where people of all ages live. Experts have said such retirement communities are the “way of the future”.
But the future is already here, as greater numbers of vertical retirement communities in high-rise apartment buildings are being built in inner-urban areas around Australia. They offer high levels of luxury with ready access to the kinds of amenities inner-city dwellers have grown accustomed to.
High-rise retirement villages would typically be equipped with various smart technologies that connect with the larger technological infrastructure of the city.
Similar to luxury hotel suites, residents would have a spectrum of in-house services and entertainment options presented via internet-connected smart TVs.
Multimedia suites would be there for augmented or virtual reality experiences – travel and education being among them. In-house cinemas would host movie nights.
The way we’re heading, technology-enabled, proactive health management will likely be built into the infrastructure of these retirement villages. It will allow people to stay healthy and live independently at an advanced age, forestalling the time when a move to aged care becomes necessary.
The health-maintenance technology available today means retirees hardly need to leave home for a checkup. Telehealth gives on-demand access to doctors via the internet. Visiting nurses have their role in looking after the elderly at home.
Then there are the dozens of smartphone apps that monitor vital signs, some of which send timely warnings before something becomes a problem.
And while high-rise living may not offer the same access to the outdoors for walking and exercise, technology has other options.
“Exergames” – video games that enable physical activity – are a segment of the computer game industry known to be beneficial to people of all ages, including the elderly. Exergames lend themselves well to vertical communities by not needing much space. They are played either alone or with friends in self-contained virtual environments.
Apart from the physical benefits of exercise, exergames have also been shown to improve mental alertness, balance and coordination, all of which contributes to fewer injuries common to the elderly, such as fractured hips from falling.
Good help is not hard to find now with assistive technologies like Google’s Duplex. These personal assistants fit right into the high-tech home and allow people, wherever they live, to stay independent for longer.
The assistant can keep your diary, make appointments over the phone, buy flowers and have them delivered, turn on the lights, call a taxi and more. Autonomy aids like this could delay the transition to aged care.
High-rise apartments are a thorny issue in suburban neighbourhoods, regardless of who is living in them. There are already some objections to high-rise aged-care facilities. But these mainly come from existing low-rise residents who are not happy to have any high-rise buildings in their neighbourhood.
Some are concerned that high-rise communities will lead to social isolation. Traffic congestion is also a concern.
When managed well in an architectural and town planning sense, vertical communities offer high-quality living while occupying a smaller urban footprint than a hundred detached dwellings. They can help reverse the urban sprawl of Australian cities, which are among the largest and least densely settled in the world. We love our big suburban houses, but they do consume vast tracts of countryside.
People want to live out their days in the freedom of their own home, not in an institution, no matter how benevolent. And it’s in the national interest to relieve pressure on the public health system. Emerging health-optimising technology and vertical communities can enable this. It’s a win-win.
Data privacy awareness has recently gained momentum, thanks in part to the Cambridge Analytica data breach and the introduction of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
One of the key elements of the GDPR is that it requires companies to simplify their privacy related terms and conditions (T&Cs) so that they are understandable to the general public. As a result, companies have been rapidly updating their terms and conditions (T&Cs), and notifying their existing users.
On one hand, these new T&Cs are now simplified legal documents. On the other hand, they are still too long. Unfortunately, most of us have still skipped reading those documents and simply clicked “accept”.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could specify our general privacy preferences in our devices, have them check privacy policies when we sign up for apps, and warn us if the agreements overstep?
This dream is achievable.
Creative Commons as a template
For decades, software was sold or licensed with Licence Agreements that were several pages long, written by lawyers and hard to understand. Later, software came with standardised licences, such as the GNU General Public Licence, Berkeley Software Distribution, or The Apache License. Those licences define users’ rights in different use cases and protect the provider from liabilities.
However, they were still hard to understand.
With the foundation of Creative Commons (CC) in 2001, a simplified licence was developed that reduced complex legal copyright agreements to a small set of copyright classes.
These licences are represented by small icons and short acronyms, and can be used for images, music, text and software. This helps creative users to immediately recognise how – or whether – they can use the licensed content in their own work.
Explainer: Creative Commons
Imagine you have taken a photo and want to share it with others for non-commercial purposes only, such as to illustrate a story on a not-for-profit news website. You could licence your photo as CC BY-NC when uploading it to Flickr. In Creative Commons terms, the abbreviation BY (for attribution) requires the user to cite the owner and NC (non-commercial) restricts the use to non-commercial applications.
Internet search engines will index these attributes with the files. So, if I search for photos explicitly licensed with those restrictions, via Google for example, I will find your photo. This is possible because even the computers can understand these licences.
We need to develop Privacy Commons
Similar to Creative Commons licences under which creative content is given to others, we need Privacy Commons by which companies can inform users how they will use their data.
The Privacy Commons need to be legally binding, simple for people to understand and simple for computers to understand. Here are our suggestions for what a Privacy Commons might look like.
We propose that the Privacy Commons classifications cover at least three dimensions of private data: collection, protection, and spread.
What data is being collected?
This dimension is to specify what level of personal information is collected from the user, and is therefore at risk. For example, name, email, phone number, address, date of birth, biometrics (including photos), relationships, networks, personal preferences, and political opinions. The could be categorised at different levels of sensitivities.
How is your data protected?
This dimension specifies:
- where your data stored – within an app, in one server, or in servers at multiple locations
- how it is stored and transported – whether it is plain text or encrypted
- how long the data is kept for – days, months, years or permanently
- how the access to your data controlled within the organisation – this indicates the protection of your data against potentially malicious actors like hackers.
How is your data spread?
In other words, who is your data shared with? This dimension tells you whether or not the data is shared with third parties. If the data is shared, will it be de-identified appropriately? Is it shared for research purposes, or sold for commercial purposes? Are there any further controls in place after the data is shared? Will it be deleted by the third party when the user deletes it at the primary organisation?
Privacy Commons will help companies think about user privacy before offering services. It will also help solve the problem of communication about privacy in the same way that Creative Commons is solving the problems of licensing for humans and computers. Similar ideas have been discussed in the past, such as Mozilla. We need to revisit those thoughts in the contemporary context of the GDPR.
Such a system would allow you to specify Privacy Commons settings in the configuration of your children’s devices, so that only appropriate apps can be installed. Privacy Commons could also be applied to inform you about the use of your data gathered for other purposes like loyalty rewards cards, such as FlyBuys.
Of course, Privacy Commons will not solve everything.
For example, it will still be a challenge to address concerns about third party personal data brokers like Acxiom or Oracle collecting, linking and selling our data without most of us even knowing.
But at least it will be a step in the right direction.
Australians are agreeing to privacy policies they are not comfortable with and would like companies only to collect data that is essential for the delivery of their service. That’s according to new, nation-wide research on consumer attitudes to privacy policies released by the Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC) today.
These findings are particularly important since the government’s announcement last week that it plans to implement “open banking” (which gives consumers better access to and control over their banking data) as the first stage of the proposed “consumer data right” from July 2019.
Consumer advocates argue that existing privacy regulation in Australia needs to be strengthened before this new regime is implemented. In many cases, they say, consumers are not truly providing their “informed consent” to current uses of their personal information.
While some blame consumers for failing to read privacy policies, I argue that not reading is often rational behaviour under the current consent model. We need improved standards for consent under our Privacy Act as a first step in improving data protection.
Australians are not reading privacy policies
Under the Privacy Act, in many cases, the collection, use or disclosure of personal information is justified by the individual’s consent. This is consistent with the “notice and choice” model for privacy regulation: we receive notice of the proposed treatment of our information and we have a choice about whether to accept.
But according to the CPRC Report, most Australians (94%) do not read all privacy policies that apply to them. While some suggest this is because we don’t care about our privacy, there are four good reasons why people who do care about their privacy don’t read all privacy policies.
We don’t have enough time
There are many privacy policies that apply to each of us and most are lengthy. But could we read them all if we cared enough?
According to international research, it would take the average person 244 hours per year (six working weeks) to read all privacy policies that apply to them, not including the time it would take to check websites for changes to these policies. This would be an impossible task for most working adults.
Under our current law, if you don’t have time to read the thousands of words in the policy, your consent can be implied by your continued use of the website which provides a link to that policy.
We can’t understand them
According to the CPRC, one of the reasons users typically do not read policies is that they are difficult to comprehend.
Very often these policies lead with feel-good assurances “We care about your privacy”, and leave more concerning matters to be discovered later in vague, open-ended terms, such as:
…we may collect your personal information for research, marketing, for efficiency purposes…
In fact, the CPRC Report states around one in five Australians:
We can’t negotiate for better terms
We generally have no ability to negotiate about how much of our data the company will collect, and how it will use and disclose it.
According to the CPRC Report, most Australians want companies only to collect data that is essential for the delivery of their service (91%) and want options to opt out of data collection (95%).
However, our law allows companies to group into one consent various types and uses of our data. Some are essential to providing the service, such as your name and address for delivery, and some are not, such as disclosing your details to “business partners” for marketing research.
These terms are often presented in standard form, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. You either consent to everything or refrain from using the service.
We can’t avoid the service altogether
According to the CPRC, over two thirds of Australians say they have agreed to privacy terms with which they are not comfortable, most often because it is the only way to access the product or service in question.
In a 2017 report, the Productivity Commission expressed the view that:
… even in sectors where there are dominant firms, such as social media, consumers can choose whether or not to use the class of product or service at all, without adversely affecting their quality of life.
However, in many cases, we cannot simply walk away if we don’t like the privacy terms.
Schools, for example, may decide what apps parents must use to communicate about their children. Many jobs require people to have Facebook or other social media accounts. Lack of transparency and competition in privacy terms also means there is often little to choose between rival providers.
We need higher standards for consent
There is frequently no real notice and no real choice in how our personal data is used by companies.
The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into effect on 25 May 2018, provides one model for improved consent. Under the GDPR, consent:
… should be given by a clear affirmative act establishing a freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the data subject’s agreement.
The Privacy Act should be amended along these lines to set higher standards for consent, including that consent should be:
explicit and require action on the part of the customer – consent should not be implied by the mere use of a website or service and there should be no pre-ticked boxes. Privacy should be the default;
unbundled – individuals should be able to choose to consent only to the collection and use of data essential to the delivery of the service, with separate choices of whether to consent to additional collections and uses;
revocable – the individual should have the option to withdraw their consent in respect of future uses of their personal data at any time.
While further improvements are needed, upgrading our standards for consent would be an important first step.
The US Federal Communications Commission last month granted Elon Musk’s SpaceX permission to launch 4,425 satellites that will provide affordable high speed broadband internet to consumers.
The Starlink network will be accessible in the US and around the world – including in areas where the internet is currently unavailable or unreliable.
SpaceX isn’t the only company investing in global internet infrastructure. Facebook, Google and Microsoft all have various projects underway to deliver high speed connectivity to remote and rural areas.
It’s all part of a trend of private companies attempting to breach the digital divide and wage a battle for the global internet.
But entrusting market forces to build critical internet resources and infrastructure is problematic. These companies aren’t obligated to operate in the interest of consumers. In some cases their practices could serve to further entrench the existing digital divide.
Half the world’s population can’t access the internet
The internet is embedded in social, personal and economic life across the developed world.
But access varies significantly between industrialised nations that boast high per capita incomes, and developing nations with largely poor, rural populations.
For example, 94% of South Korean adults and 93% of Australian adults have access to the internet, compared with just 22% of Indians and 15% of Pakistanis.
As society becomes increasingly dependent on the internet, nations and communities need equal access. Otherwise legacy inequalities will become further entrenched and new divides will emerge, potentially creating a “permanent underclass”.
Tech giants battle it out
The tech giants have been investing heavily in critical infrastructure in recent years.
Google owns the FASTER trans-Pacific undersea cable link, which has carried data (at 60 terabits per second) between the US, Japan and Taiwan since 2016. Meanwhile, the Microsoft and Facebook funded MAREA trans-Atlantic cable has connected the US to southern Europe (at 160 terabits per second) since in 2017.
New investments centre on atmospheric, stratospheric and satellite delivery strategies.
Along with SpaceX’s constellation of small satellites, Facebook’s internet.org uses atmospheric drones to deliver internet to rural and remote areas. Google’s Project Loon uses high altitude navigable balloons for the same purpose.
The privatisation of a public good is problematic
Private investors who build infrastructure are driven by commercial imperatives rather than a need to deliver social benefits. And that dynamic can entrench and exacerbate existing – and create new – digital, social and economic divides.
This can be innocuous enough, such as when the company that makes League of Legends built its own internet network to ensure its players weren’t upset by slow speeds.
But it’s more of a problem when faster connections can tilt investment and trading playing fields in favour of those with access, leaving ordinary investors out in the cold.
Facebook’s Free Basics is a program that aims to provide cheap internet services to consumers in developing countries. It currently operates in 63 developing nations.
Critics say the service is a blatant a strategy to extend Facebook’s global dominance to the developing world. It’s also been accused of violating net neutrality by strictly controlling participating sites to eliminate Facebook’s competitors.
Technology is not neutral
Privately owned and operated internet infrastructure can also become a means of social control.
Termination of internet services is a notorious tactic used by authoritarian regimes to repress dissent by disrupting communication and censoring information. But private entities may also exercise control over infrastructure outside of government regulation.
For example, when WikiLeaks published government correspondence in 2010, Amazon and AnyDNS withdrew the services that maintained the Wikileaks website. Mastercard, Paypal and VISA terminated services through which the organisation received funding for its activities.
These companies were not acting under government direction, citing violations of their Acceptable Use policies to justify their decisions. Harvard professor Yochai Benckler said at the time:
Commercial owners of the critical infrastructures of the networked environment can deny service to controversial speakers, and some appear to be willing to do so at a mere whiff of public controversy.
SpaceX must meet a host of technical conditions before Starlink can be activated. But we shouldn’t assume that providing internet access to developing countries will lead to an ecosystem from which economic or social benefits will flow.
When the logic of corporate capitalism dominates the provision of internet services, there’s no guarantee that the internet’s founding principles – an egalitarian tool where users share information for the greater good – will be upheld.
Despite large investments in the National Broadband Network, the “digital divide” in Australia remains largely unchanged, according to a new report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The Australian Household Use of Information Technology report says we are doing more online, and we are using an increasing number of connected devices. Our homes are more connected.
However, the number of people using the internet is not growing, and the basic parameters of digital inequality in Australia – age, geography, education and income – continue to define access to and uses of online resources.
Almost 2.6 million Australians, according to these ABS figures, do not use the internet. Nearly 1.3 million households are not connected. So what is going on? The ABS data points to the complexity of the social and economic issues involved, but it also helps us identify the key areas of concern.
Who’s missing out
Age is a critical factor. While more than nine in ten people aged between 15 to 54 are internet users, the number drops to eight in ten of those aged 55-64 years, and to under six in ten of those over 65 years.
Most people with jobs (95.1%) are online, compared to just 72.5% of those not employed. Migrants from non-English speaking countries are less connected (81.6%) than those Australian born (87.6%). Those already at a disadvantage – the very people who have the most to gain from all the extraordinary resources of the internet – are missing out.
This is not to say that it is only individuals that will benefit from greater digital inclusion. Raising the level of digital inclusion yields direct benefits for the community, government and business. There are, for instance, clear efficiency gains for government moving services online.
Raising the level of online health engagement for those over 65 years of age (the heaviest users of health care) would provide such a benefit. Currently, just over one in five people in this age category access online health services, substantially below the national average of two in five.
But nor should we focus only on the economic and efficiency gains of inclusion: the social benefits of connection and access to entertainment and information are considerable for most internet users, and especially so for those who are isolated and lonely, as older people may be.
Income and affordability matter
Australians with higher incomes are substantially more likely to have internet access at home than those with lower incomes – 96.9% of the highest quintile (bracket representing one fifth of the sample) income households have access, whereas only 67.4% of the lowest quintile have access.
And better-off Australians appear to be doing more online. Compared to the general population their uses of online banking and shopping, education and health services are higher. They are connected to the internet with multiple devices, with an average of 7.2 devices at home, compared to 4.4 in the lowest income quintile.
The gap between the major cities and the bush has not narrowed over time – 87.9% of those living in major cities have internet access at home, 82.7% in inner regional, 80.7% in outer regional and 77.1% in remote areas. It’s important to note that this survey did not include remote Indigenous communities, where the evidence suggests that internet access is usually very poor.
Among those who are connected, geographical differences in the means of access and modes of engagement with online services suggest a further gap among those who are already disadvantaged. People in remote areas use the internet much less for entertainment and formal education compared to their urban counterparts, which are services that require more bandwidth and better quality connections.
Unfortunately, the ABS did not ask why households do not have home internet access, as it did in 2014-15. That data revealed cost was a factor keeping 198,600 households offline. Unsurprisingly, 148,200 of these households were from the two lowest income quintiles. Cost was the major factor in keeping more than 30,000 of the 76,000 family households (with children under 15) offline.
Given the increasingly central role of the internet in educational activities, the fact that the number of family households without access has not fallen since 2014-15 is concerning.
Affordability will continue to be a problem as more data-intensive services are offered online and the demand for data increases, and as mobile services become increasingly important.
However, cost was not the only reason people gave for non-use. Around 200,000 of the two lowest income households lacked knowledge or confidence to use the internet. Digital ability, and our readiness to make use of the internet, are clearly areas for continuing attention. We know that interventions there can make a difference.
The final survey on household use of IT
This ABS survey is the last of its kind. We hope the Bureau will be able to undertake further surveys in this area. The end of this data series does not signal its lack of relevance, at a time when digital inclusion is more important than ever. On the contrary, it points to a pressing new challenge for governments, the community, and business.
As our service economy increasingly moves online — in education, health, work, and government services — we need to ensure that all Australians, particularly those already disadvantaged, have affordable access to the online world. A reliable evidence base to inform our work in this area is essential.
But the information we have should be enough to spark action in some critical areas. The affordability of broadband is clearly one of these. When we consider, for example, the situation of families with children — where cost is clearly an issue for a significant number of them — we need to recognise that existing policy settings and market mechanisms are not working.
The digital divide is likely to grow
The ABS findings correspond to other recent work in the area. Australian policy has long had the aim of making communications widely accessible across our huge country and dispersed, fairly small population.
But the Australian Digital Inclusion Index has highlighted the problem of affordability and unequal access across economic, social and spatial lines. Australia’s performance also compares poorly to other countries.
The Inclusive Internet Index, produced by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit, rates Australia at 25 out of 86 countries, behind Russia and Hungary.
So despite the egalitarian aspirations embodied in the policy language of the National Broadband Network, the evidence suggests that the Australian internet remains unusually unequal in terms of access and affordability.
Instead of a digital economy designed for everyone, we appear to have created a highly stratified internet, where the distribution of resources and opportunities online reflects Australia’s larger social and economic inequalities. The risk is that over time the digital divide will amplify these. Unfortunately there is little indication in the ABS data that any of the key indicators will change soon.
Julian Thomas, Director, Social Change Enabling Capability Platform, RMIT University; Chris K Wilson, Research Fellow, Technology, Communication and Policy Lab – Digital Ethnography Research Centre, RMIT University, and Sora Park, Director, News & Media Research Centre, University of Canberra
Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to transform China’s military into the world’s most powerful force by 2050. And he could be on track to do it.
On the opening day of its National People’s Congress in Beijing yesterday, China reported a defence budget of ¥1.11 trillion ($A225 billion) for 2018. That represents an 8.1% increase in its defence budget, compared to a 7% increase last year.
China’s military has modernised rapidly in recent years. Since January alone it has demonstrated new capabilities in stealth fighter jets, drones, naval ships and advanced missiles.
Chinese scientists are also working to develop revolutionary technologies that would change the way wars are fought – and the way we live.
Challenging US military might
While China still lags the US in overall technological capability, it has narrowed the gap substantially. In the coming decades, it is poised to challenge US technological supremacy in key fields such as artificial intelligence, supercomputing and quantum information science.
What explains China’s rise as a technological power?
First, it has leveraged the innovation of other countries via technology transfers, and the acquisition of foreign companies and talent. It has also been reverse-engineering Western technology, and conducting state-sponsored industrial espionage.
According to one security analysis, between 2006 and 2013 the Chinese military stole confidential data from more than 140 organisations around the world. The problem was so serious that in May 2014, the US Department of Justice indicted five Chinese military hackers for cyber-espionage activities against US companies.
Second, China has been able to mobilise resources for priority technology sectors and research and development (R&D) projects in a way that many democracies are simply unable to do because of the limits of government power or popular mandate. Large state subsidies, government R&D funding, tailored regulations, market barriers and lax individual rights (such as privacy) protection have given Chinese domestic companies an edge over their foreign competitors.
Finally, China has substantially increased its R&D expenditure in recent years. From 2012 to 2017, China’s annual R&D spending rose 70.9% to ¥1.76 trillion ($A356 billion). The US National Science Board expects China to surpass the US in R&D investment, in purchasing power terms, by the end of this year.
China’s new superweapons
Here are a few examples of how China is making rapid progress in high-tech fields with military applications.
Hypersonic technology could one day allow us to travel from Beijing to New York in about two hours, rather than the 13 hours it currently takes. China is developing a hypersonic glide vehicle known as DF-ZF to make its nuclear and non-nuclear missiles extremely fast, manoeuvrable and capable of defeating existing missile defence systems.
To support this effort, China is building the world’s most advanced hypersonic wind tunnel for testing the extreme conditions of supersonic flight. While an operational hypersonic missile is still years away, once developed it would be a formidable weapon. It could also have a destabilising effect on strategic relations between China and other powers by compressing the time window for decision-making in a conflict or crisis situation.
Another area of China’s focus is quantum technology, which uses subatomic mechanics to process and transmit information in a fraction of the time required by existing technology.
China is making rapid headway in quantum communication, computing and cryptography. In August 2016, China launched the world’s first quantum satellite. This enabled Chinese researchers to conduct cutting-edge experiments in quantum entanglement and teleportation. To win the quantum race, China announced last year that it will build the world’s largest quantum research facility at a cost of ¥76 billion ($A15.4 billion).
Quantum technology would enable the Chinese military to set up virtually unbreakable communication networks. It would also provide it with overwhelming computing power for information operations, such as the decryption of secret communications by adversaries.
China is also in the advanced stages of developing an electromagnetic railgun. This supergun uses electromagnetic energy to shoot powerful projectiles over vast distances at incredible speed. These projectiles are aerodynamic and their power comes from the kinetic damage generated by the intense speed at which they travel.
Recent photos circulated on Chinese social media show what is suspected to be an experimental electromagnetic railgun mounted on the bow of the Chinese navy ship. This indicates that China may soon be the first in world to test such a weapon at sea, where it could revolutionise naval combat. In contrast, the US Navy is winding down its railgun research program because of resource constraints and shifting priorities.
The above examples are only a few among dozens of high-tech fields in which China is making rapid progress. Others include biotechnology, robotics, supercomputing, nanotechnology, advanced materials, space technology, and artificial intelligence. In fact, the Chinese government has identified 17 engineering and science megaprojects that are key to China’s economic and military strength. These include advanced satellites, large nuclear reactors, large aircraft and high-end electronic chips.
China’s continued rise as a technological giant will have profound implications for its military power as Beijing leverages civilian technology for its military. This effort is so important that President Xi considers it a top priority. To underscore this, Xi created a powerful commission under his direct leadership to provide high-level guidance and oversight.
Much hinges on how Beijing chooses to use its new-found military and technological might. Indeed, China’s extensive geopolitical ambitions and increasingly assertive foreign policy are ominous signs that foreshadow the challenges ahead.