Friday, June 26, 2009

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New World Newsfeed: Rumors of Australian Second Life Censorship Seem Way Too Rumorish To Believe (For Now)

Over the last 24 hours I've been peppered with links as here and here which seem to suggest the Australian government is imminently planning to block access to Second Life from that country. It has to do with a recent Aussie Communication Ministry proposal to filter the online distribution of computer games not rated acceptable for teen play. I'm far from an expert on Australian jurisprudence, but near as I can tell, any relation with this news to Second Life is highly tenuous and conjectural at best. Reading this editorial, "Confirmed: Second Life, online adult games to be banned outright in Australia" from a pop culture site called The Inquisitr, some have assumed the worst. Thing is, nothing in the editorial actually confirms anything of the kind, and the very second sentence compares the government administrator involved to Joseph Goebbels, which is such a ham-fisted violation of Godwin's Law, the only thing it really confirms is the author's own penchant for dubious hyperbole. The Syndey Morning Herald has a slightly more informative take, but again, all we have there is "an ISP engineer and internet filtering critic" speculating that the new regulation may "place a cloud" over online worlds like Second Life. (Not a ban, do note, just a state of regulatory limbo.)

I'm checking with some sources to see if there's any actual substance connecting these numerous leaps of logic. For now, though, it's likely there are several layers of parliamentary, buereaucratic, and technical implementation before any of this impacts Australian access to Second Life (if it ever does.) So until that happens, perhaps all this free-floating anxiety could be better spent elsewhere? Say, lobbying the Australian government to generally improve its tech policies?

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Tateru Nino

The Inquisitr seems way off base. The ad-hominems seem to pretty much write-off that source's credibility in this case, IMO.

Capt. Red

so funny how these rumours spread around like wildfire...unsubstantiated....fueled and fanned by the twittersphere. good reporting and debunking. can always count on your for the bottom line!
cheers!
~Capt. Red Llewellyn of
New Babbage

epredator

The censorship rumours may have been a little premature however it is clear that some policy makers are not really geared up to understand the full implications of some actions. Many of us have tried to advise various government bodies at various times.
Many governments and also large media corporations are clearly threatened, and as we see with individual use of certain forms of communication the knee jerk reaction is to restrict for our own good.
We recently had a similar lobbying need here in Europe http://blackouteurope.eu/ with some regulations not dis-similar that if applied in certain ways may restrict freedoms on the web under the guise of protection.
In the case of blackout europe this did lead to lobbying euro ministers and parties. However much of the response was they were concerned and wanted to act but due to the structure of the EU this was not something actually being voted on.
It is good if we as connected citizens in a global environment to get worked up at hints of these sorts of things, if nothing else but to remind those who actually want this sort of control that it will be very unpopular and loose them their elected seats.
There is of course the problem of crying wolf and having protest fatigue.
I recall a conversation about financial regulation and a need that there is no cheating and stealing online. Which in itself makes sense, however the conversations also turned to space piracy in eve online, the basis of the game being cheating and stealing. Hence providing a slightly different perspective on the controls and opt ins that we engage with. These are all grey areas, and things ending up in regulatory limbo are more likely to be cracked down upon because it is easier that way.
So I think its a case of watch this space.

Gwyneth Llewelyn

While I'm glad to know that the "gray area" is too large to even consider the "rumour" to have some substance, nevertheless I think it doesn't hurt to have an open letter to the Australian Communication Ministry stating why it's ridiculous and preposterous to "ban Second Life".

But I'll thank you for your research work, Hammie, and will wait until you can get more clear news on the issue before thinking about the open letter...

Maggie Darwin

Well, if you first heard this story from tweets pointing to The Inquisitr, as I did, it's easy to be put off by the over-the-top prose; obviously that's a source with an axe to grind with Stephen Conroy.

But checking other online sources, Conroy's office doesn't seem to have been misquoted; The Age said
---
Senator Conroy's spokesman said the filter would cover "computer games such as web-based flash games and downloadable games, if a complaint is received and the content is determined by ACMA to be Refused Classification". All games that exceed MA15+ are deemed to be RC.
---

How long do you think it will take one complaint to be made?

further from The Age

---
Nine ISPs are trialling the web censorship plan, which will block all content that has been "refused classification" by ACMA. Results of the trials are due to be published in July.
---

I would *not* minimize this issue just because the first source you saw was disreputable. I *certainly* would not consider it "debunked".

The Communications Ministry has stated their intent to filter downloadable games that have not been rated, and Second Life unquestionably fits that definition.

Perhaps this explains some of Linden Research's kamikaze implementation of Zindra; they want to be able to get a rating in AU as soon as possible. The bad news is there currently is not a rating for games that even a Zindraized Second Life will pass unless AU-based users are locked out of Zindra.


Nexus Burbclave

There is better coverage of the issue at Gamespot and Ars Technica.:

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/06/australian-net-filter-to-block-video-games-too.ars

http://www.gamespot.com/news/6212530.html

Censoring SL looks like a potential side effect of the current plans, but not an immediate outcome. I completely agree with your conclusion. Instead of fretting, educate yourself on this issue, and lobby your government.

Arcadia Codesmith

The controversy seems centered around a bait-and-switch pulled by supporters of mandatory filtering -- they sold it as a measure to stop child porn, but then it expanded to block all games that are RC (Refused Classification) under the Australian rating system.

Attempts to amend the rating system to include an 18+ category have apparently been blocked by a single Attorney General in South Australia.

The net result is that the only games legal to be sold in Australia at the moment are those that are suitable for a 15-year-old, and Conroy and his supporters are hell-bent on including this "illegal" content in their mandatory filtering system (which, on a side note, does a much more efficient job at blocking legitimate sites than at stemming child porn).

This makes Australia the first Western democracy to implement mandatory content filtering, joining the ranks of governments like Iran and China.

The blacklist is top-secret (presumably to avoid giving any ammunition to opponents), but it reportedly tops 100,000 sites.

I'm no expert on Oz, but that's my understanding of the situation from what I've read.

Schmo

Though I realize you probably mistyped and meant "implementation," I seriously love the phrase "bureaucratic ... implantation" coined in this post.

Arcadia Codesmith

I've also read that 78% of Australians are opposed, the legislature is balking at implementing this tripe, and Mr. Convoy is turning curious shades of crimson as wisps of steam curl from his ears.

Chakalak Skall

I'm really tired of nazifications and comparisions to fascists. I read that quite often lately and if this might be funny between some very close rl friends, it's not in open internet forums and discussions! Especially for us germans and those who have a little idea of politics and what was going on during the fascist era.

I know it's not on topic, but since another Nazi is mentioned (Goebbels) who is responsible for lots of monstrous doings... I just think these comparisions trivialize fascism and the nationalsocialists.

Tateru Nino

I believe that the extension of the plan to cover games is a method of increasing support in the legislature.

Hamlet Au

Typo fixed, Schmo, amusing or otherwise, thanks!

Connie Sec

At last..a nuanced and dare I say even-handed look at what is getting some Orc Slayer's Loincloth's in a Twist.

Delora Starbrook

The inquistr link, though quoted and noted by many, is not the one that I'm referencing for this so-called 'rumour'

The Sydney Morning Herald ran an article as well, and to my knowledge, is a legitimate news-source.

http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/games/web-filters-to-censor-video-games-20090625-cxrx.html

Connie Sec

The Herald is a legitinate news source, but to take the OPINION of someone quoted in an article as fact is a major mistake. This gets taken up by blogs who pass it onto other blogs as some sort of digital Chinese whisper.Opinion becomes fact and fact then becomes drama.
An example of this is a recent blog post that alleges greater problems, eg..it links to another blog that alleges that the filtering also includes the keeping of records of your net activity. This links to the Aus govt site..which when you drill though makes NO mention of such a proposal.
If the LAST blog had even made a cursory look at the link the blog it was referring to, they would have seen that.
But no, many take the easy route without a hint of questioning or skeptical appraisal of opinions expressed.

Faerie

In Australia the official transcripts of what is said in Parliament are called "Hansard".

Senator Conroy's answer to the specific question about this issue can be found here:

http://www.aph.gov.au/Hansard/senate/dailys/ds220609.pdf Page 95 (PDF page 109),

Scott Ludlam, Question 1496.13: "Will computer games exceeding the requirements of the MA15+ classification be RC and potentially blocked by ISPs on a mandatory basis for adults; if not, what other exceptions to RC would be similarly permitted." Page 96 (PDF page 110),

Stephen Conroy's Answer: "Computer games that exceed an MA15+ rating are deemed to be RC content as there is no R18+ or X18+ rating. RC content will be included in the mandatory filtering of RC content under the Government’s proposal. Issues relating to the classification of computer games fall within the Attorney-General’s portfolio.

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