Matt Smith's End of the Spectrum

Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Purveyor of finally crafted radio plays. A Muppet of a man.

The net is already censored, and not by the government

First published in The Punch on 1st October, 2010

Depending on which way you look at it, Australia can indeed be considered ‘the lucky country’ when it comes to internet censorship.

Our browsing has always remained the decision of the user, and an entire world of possibilities have been left open – happiness, whatever your definition, has never been further than a mouse click away.

While some of the options available on the internet are morally ambiguous, many of them are legal – you just don’t want to bring up the topics loudly at dinner parties.

For some, this unrestricted browsing has gone too far. While consistently coming under fire, the internet filtering scheme championed by Stephen Conroy refuses to go away.

It sees fit to protect our fragile minds from the evils of the internet, and leaving us a pristine play area where we can watch Justin Bieber videos and cats jump into sinks on YouTube in peace. The rabbit-proof firewall will shield us from everything from child pornography to websites that falls into the ‘refused classification category’ (despite the fact that much of that content is legal in Australia).

In the fourteen years since the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, governments all over the world have taken steps in one form or another to protect their public from illegal activities on the internet. Australia is going one step further – the internet filter will take us so close to “the dark side” that international organisation Reporters Without Borders have placed us on their watch list.

Many see this as an infringement on basic rights, as well they should. But it might be worth pointing out that our cyberspace access, as it is, already has certain practices in place to keep our innocence intact. Far be it for us to call the Australian government to be singled out as the only villain in this story – respected internet entities, who would assumably appreciate the need for a restriction free internet, have seemed overly eager to filter out disreputable material on the public’s behalf.

One famous example is Apple, which via it’s App Store has taken the liberty of preventing any content that it deems overtly sexual or inappropriate. While this would be completely within their right to do (they aren’t forcing anyone to use iTunes or their iPhones) it maybe wouldn’t be such a big deal if they were uniform in their decision – instead, they allow Sports Illustrated and Playboy to make money through selling sexual related apps.

Their justification? “The difference is this is a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format,” says Phillip Schiller, head of worldwide product marketing at Apple. It’s with double standards that this impartiality becomes a problem.

Even stranger is the filtering of Google Instant, the autofill function that kicks in when you start typing into a Google search bar. Somewhere within Google exists a master list of banned terms, which will never appear in Google Instant, even if it’s the exact term that you’re typing.

While the company just seem to be on the lookout for the innocents amongst us, the complete Google Blacklist does reveal some interesting insight into the Google mentality.

Not only do they have extensive knowledge on a variety of bizarre subjects, but there’s maybe such a thing as too over-protective, with terms ‘hairy’, ‘pamela anderson’ and ‘babes in toyland’ in amongst the blacklisted search terms.

Regardless of how strange it seems, the Google Instant blacklist and the powerful filters that the search engine has in place should be enough to keep the Australian families that Conroy is determined to protect free from harm.

There’s one important distinction – Google has the ability for these filters to be turned off.

While it’s one thing for a company to act restrictive in this fashion, it’s quite another for a country to flex those muscles.

Yes, in some cases it can go too far – The Great Firewall of China has been known in particular to be rather excluding and unforgiving (it banned my own website when I discussed the Guns ‘N’ Roses album ‘Chinese Democracy’), but Australia has in the past been considered relatively forgiving and free in what you can access.

If the proposed internet filter that Stephen Conroy continues to champion goes ahead, it should be about enforcing the laws of a country, not the morals of its citizens.

Fiona Patten, leader of the Australian Sex Party, possibly said it best when she pointed out that they should be directing the resources to shut down offending child pornography sites rather than just filtering it out. Otherwise who gets to make the decision as to what sites go on the blacklist? Stephen Conroy?


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This entry was posted on October 18, 2010 by in lifestyle, technology and tagged , , .
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