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Unlikely bedmates: union strikes Airbnb deal ‘to protect delivery drivers’ | Technology

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Airbnb will pay union members $150 to sign up as hosts under an unusual deal the Transport Workers Union says is about ending the exploitation of delivery drivers.

Under the deal, Airbnb will actively promote food and package delivery companies that do the right thing by their workers – although the union says none currently meets its standards.

Airbnb will also put $50 for each new union host into a not-for-profit company set up by the TWU.

The union has been campaigning against food delivery companies including UberEats, Deliveroo and Foodora over pay and conditions for their workers.


The union said none of the food delivery companies in the market were meeting its benchmarks on ethical labour practices, meaning there were currently no providers Airbnb could endorse. But it said the new deal was about effecting change.

“This is really a call for companies to lift their standards, that there are opportunities for them,” TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said.

“Rather than going to the lowest standard, where people won’t get paid superannuation, don’t have workers’ compensation, and are paid below minimum wages, this is about encouraging the new economy to lift standards.”

Sheldon said the situation was different for package delivery, where there were existing companies worthy of endorsement for the way they treated their workers.

He said Airbnb would endorse deserving delivery companies by giving its own business to them, and by encouraging Airbnb hosts to use and recommend them.

For every new union host, Airbnb will also give $50 to Teacho, a not-for-profit company established by the TWU with employers and industry experts.

Its aims include improving research, training, industrial rights, and health and safety standards for transport workers.

Airbnb’s public policy chief, Brent Thomas, said ethical companies needed to do their bit to make sure “technology was a force for good”.

“With wages flat and the cost of living high, we want to empower working families by helping them earn extra income and promote good, well-paying jobs. We are proud to partner with the TWU which fights tirelessly for the rights of workers,” he said in a statement.

UberEats, Deliveroo and Foodora have been contacted for comment.



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Australia newsAustralian politicsData protectionFacial recognitionGillian TriggsTechnology

Gillian Triggs joins call for digital rights reforms after brush with data’s dark side | Technology

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Gillian Triggs, Australia’s controversial former human rights commissioner has had a personal experience of the dangers of data retention laws.

She was caught out, she reveals in a new report on Digital Rights, when she agreed to provide access to 24 hours of her digital life as part of an experiment at the Melbourne Writers Festival in 2017.

As her emails were put on a screen behind her, the audience tittered.


Her digital indiscretion was a minor one. She had applied for a seniors card.

But Triggs’ experience illustrates a point, made over and over in the Digital Rights Watch state of the nation report: your digital life is easily tracked, mapped, stored and exploited.

And the tools to more accurately track and match your data to you are about to be greatly enhanced by the use of facial recognition software, making it almost impossible for people to opt out of giving their details any time they are physically present.

The report from Digital Digital Rights Watch, released on Monday, calls for a series of reforms to better protect Australians’ digital rights.

While the revelations by Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning about the scale and reach of surveillance in the US, and the activities of Cambridge Analytica in seeking to manipulate elections have highlighted what is possible, Digital Rights Watch warns this is just “scratching the surface”.

“A much wider, systematic and wilful degradation of our human rights online is happening,” the group’s chairman, Tim Singleton Norton warns.

The report warns that new technologies, such as facial recognition software, will open up new opportunities for advertisers and marketers but also pose significant new risks.

Dr Suelette Dreyfus, from the school of computing at the University of Melbourne, said data about people’s movements and behaviours collected by shopping centres, retailers and advertising companies could be combined with new technologies that included physical biometric identification, mood analysis and behavioural biometrics.

This, she warned, would remove consumers’ ability to not give their details or use a pseudonym when when dealing with an organisation that collects data, like a supermarket. That has the potential to undermine one of the key protections of the Privacy Act – the right not to give your details.

Dreyfus also said the biometric analysis technology now used for security was being repurposed to monitor the mood of individuals and their responses to advertising. It could also be used by employers to monitor the mood of employees.

“This technology is being sold and implemented despite the clear privacy and ethical issues with its implementation and the questionable value of the measurement itself,” she said.

Data Rights Watch is urging the development of an opt-out register for people who do not want their movement data used for commercial purposes. It is calling for a compulsory register of entities that collect behavioural biometric data.

The report also warns that Australia’s laws have failed to protect human rights.

“Upholding digital rights requires us to find the balance between the opportunity the internet provides us to live better, brighter and more interconnected lives, and the threat, posed by trolls, corporations and government,” Norton said. He is calling for a more nuanced debate.

The report highlights a number of concerns about Australian law and calls for the immediate scrapping of the law that requires telecommunications companies to retain their customers’ metadata for two years.

The report says that current regime effectively allows law enforcement bodies to watch everybody all of the time without them knowing. Warrants are not required except in the case of accessing journalist’s metadata, presumably to protect sources.

It notes there are reports of some organisations, including government departments intentionally circumventing privacy protections within the legislation in order to gain access to data they are not authorised to have.

It is also calling for new laws that respects and uphold the right to digital privacy and to data protection. It wants the government to create a similar body to the European Data Protection to monitor privacy protections.

And the group proposes a “right to disconnect”, which would prevent employers using digital tools to encroach on statutory rest breaks or holidays of their workers.



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Australia newsCultureeSportsGamesGames competitionsSportSydney

Extreme eSports: the very male, billion-dollar gaming industry at a stadium near you | Sport

Extreme eSports: the very male, billion-dollar gaming industry at a stadium near you | Sport


Whenever an artist scheduled to play Qudos Bank Arena at Sydney Olympic Park doesn’t sell enough tickets, the venue tactfully drapes black cloth over the empty seats in the theatre’s uppermost section. Filling more than 18,000 seats is quite an ask, which is why only top-flight acts like Pink, Katy Perry, Shania Twain and Kendrick Lamar are attempting it in coming months.

The black cloth is not needed today. Sydney gaming enthusiasts have filled the venue almost to capacity for the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM), a three-day professional video game tournament that rivals anything Qudos has hosted in terms of scale and spectacle.

Two groups of five men are onstage, seated at computer monitors. Headphones on, hunched forward, they sit almost completely immobile save for their flickering hands and darting eyes. Their coaches pace grimly behind them, watching the screens and muttering directives into their microphones.

Behind them, two enormous television monitors broadcast their onscreen actions. On the dusty streets of a Moroccan village, a band of balaclava-clad separatists is shot to pieces by a matching squad of Special Forces soldiers. Thirty seconds later, the soldiers are the ones cut down, caught in the crosshairs of a sniper as they stumble through a veil of smoke. A bomb planted on a cache of chemical weapons ignites, presumably killing thousands.

From the VIP seats to the nosebleed section, the enraptured crowd watches on, occasionally roaring its collective approval or disappointment. It is overwhelmingly male, although not noticeably more so than your average rugby league match. The main difference to any other sporting audience is that of age: the vast majority of attendees are in their 20s and 30s.



While large-scale eSports events like IEM are relatively new in Australia, tournaments overseas routinely attract tens of thousands of attendees and millions of livestream views. Photograph: Helena Kristiansson/Helena Kristiansson, ESL

During lulls in play, they amuse themselves in the time-honoured way of bored Australian sports fans everywhere: by batting around a few beach balls and taunting security’s efforts to stop them. Chants of “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!” are just as regular and inane as they are at the cricket. When events onscreen reach a climax, the immense amphitheatre thunders with the crowd’s euphoria.

If this scene sounds made-up, you have officially missed the boat on the eSports phenomenon. Competitive gaming is a billion-dollar industry, and Sydney has become the field’s domestic epicentre.

IEM is dedicated to Counterstrike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), a multiplayer first-person shoot-’em-up where teams of five compete against each other in simple, objective-based rounds. Teams either assume the role of “terrorists” trying to plant a bomb, or Special Forces-style “counter-terrorists” trying to stop them, with much carnage resulting.

From the VIP seats to the nosebleed section, the enraptured crowd watches on.



From the VIP seats to the nosebleed section, the enraptured crowd watches on. Photograph: Helena Kristiansson

Sixteen professional CS:GO teams from as far afield as the European Union, Brazil, the United States and China are competing at IEM for a share in the $310,000 prize pool. Individual games take less than two minutes, with tournament rounds decided via a best-of-30 format. Whichever team wins 16 games takes the round, like a set in a game of tennis, and the team that wins two of three rounds wins the contest and advances to the next stage.

For competitors, this is not an amateur pursuit – it is a livelihood, and a possible ticket to sponsorship and stardom. While large-scale eSports events like IEM are relatively new in Australia, tournaments overseas routinely attract tens of thousands of attendees and millions of livestream views.

For competitors, eSports is not an amateur pursuit – it is a livelihood, and a possible ticket to sponsorship and stardom.



For competitors, eSports is not an amateur pursuit – it is a livelihood, and a possible ticket to sponsorship and stardom. Photograph: Helena Kristiansson

As the scene has become increasingly professionalised, competitive eSports has begun to resemble traditional sport far more than the old cliche of nerdy kids playing in a basement. Like any other sport, it has its own doping scandals, injuries and pay and contract disputes.

Teams are increasingly joining the World eSports Association, a peak body designed to standardise pay, conditions, rights and regulations across the industry. The major brands – Fnatic, Cloud9, Legacy – attract the same loyalty and fanaticism of elite sports teams. Their uniforms are adorned with the logos of hefty sponsors like Audi, Dr Pepper and Vodafone, and they scout lower pool-stage tournaments for talented players to sign.

Australian Oliver Tierney, known by the handle DickStacy, turned 21 three weeks ago and has been playing professionally for a year. Tierney has already played at international CS:GO tournaments in London, Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia and New Zealand, and is headed to Dallas in two weeks with Australian team Grayhound Gaming. His celebrity with the IEM crowd is evident by the reception he receives when he tries to use one of the venue’s bathrooms.

Ollie Tierney
(@DickStacyy)

When you go to the male bathroom at IEM, and proceed to stand in the middle of the urinal of 15 guys to take a piss then a fellow gentlemen says, “IS THAT DICKSTACYS DICK!?” All eyes then turn to your penis. Good times.


May 5, 2018

“I love the competitiveness of it, I love the group aspect,” Tierney says. “I never thought I’d be here in a million years.”

While Tierney has established himself overseas, he’s also keen to grow eSports domestically.

“The industry’s just going to keep growing and growing,” he says. “We’re completely behind in Australia at the moment; our internet’s too patchy, no one takes games seriously, the culture’s not there yet. But every kid these days knows what eSports is. The new generation coming through is where it’s going to happen.”

As the 16 male teams battle it out, the CS:GO Women’s Sydney Open plays in a side room. Around 100 people sit in the audience, making it the only space at IEM with more than a handful of women at any given time.

It’s a sober reminder of the gender disparity that permeates both sports and gaming culture. Like almost any other sport, women eSports players are woefully underpaid compared to their male counterparts. The two women’s teams in the grand final – Sydney Saints and Control ESports – are only competing for the lion’s share of $10,000 in prize money.

The Intel Extreme Masters final takes nearly five hours, but when the team finally complete the whitewash, the arena erupts.



The Intel Extreme Masters final takes nearly five hours, but when the team finally complete the whitewash, the arena erupts. Photograph: Helena Kristiansson

The fact that eSports are gender segregated at all points more to the sexism present in the wider gaming scene than any disparity in ability. The 2014 Gamergate scandal, which saw female gaming journalists and critics of gaming culture’s more boorish aspects targeted by waves of online abuse, was the first rumbling of what would become the weaponised misogyny of the Trump campaign and the violent “incel” movement.

Nicole Constantine is the Sydney Saints’ manager, handling their schedules and day-to-day logistics. She thinks that while gender equality in eSports is a way off, the “step-by-step” work of women like the Saints is wearing down the barriers.

“If you give girls the opportunity, they will perform”, Constantine says. “Constantly criticising and comparing them to the boys’ leagues is useless, because they stand on their own.”

By Sunday, the 16 male teams have been whittled down to two: FaZe Clan, the home crowd favourites, and Astralis, hyped by MC Oliver D’Anastasi as “possibly the best team in the world”.

Despite FaZe Clan eventually blitzing the best-of-five rounds contest, the final takes nearly five hours. When they finally complete the whitewash, the arena erupts.

As Sydney goes about its Sunday, unaware of the growing phenomenon unfolding in its midst, 18,000 gaming devotees stand to cheer their new champions.





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Australia newsClimate changeEnvironmentInternetScienceTechnologyWikipedia

Wikipedia: the most cited authors revealed to be three Australian scientists | Technology

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An academic paper on global climate zones written by three Australians more than a decade ago has been named the most cited source on Wikipedia, having being referenced more than 2.8m times.

But the authors of the paper, who are still good friends, had no idea about the wider impact of their work until recently.

The paper, published in 2007 in the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, used contemporary data to update a widely used model for classifying the world’s climates.

Known as the Köppen Climate Classification System, the model was first published by climatologist Wladimir Köppen in 1884, but it had not been comprehensively updated for decades.

The lead author of the paper is Dr Murray Peel, a senior lecturer in the department of infrastructure engineering at the University of Melbourne, and he co-authored the updated climate map with geography professor Brian Finlayson and engineering professor Thomas McMahon, both now retired.

“We are amazed, absolutely amazed at the number of citations,” Finlayson told Guardian Australia from his home in Melbourne. “We are not so much amazed at the fact it’s been cited as we are about the number of people who have cited it.

“It’s pleasing that research you’ve done is something other people are finding useful.”

The trio knew their paper had an impact in academic circles and in scientific literature, with the Köppen Climate Classification System used by researchers in a range of fields including geology, sociology, public health and climatology.

But Finlayson said they were unaware of the more widespread success until a journalist from Wired contacted them about the results of an analysis by Wikipedia of the top 10 sources by citation across every Wikipedia language. All 10 were reference books or scientific articles. The updated world map of the Köppen-Geiger climate classification boasted 2,830,341 citations, easily surpassing what came in at No 2, a paper published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry that had 21,350 citations.

Finlayson said the popularity of the paper emphasised the importance of open science, which is the concept that data and findings should be openly and freely available so that others can use and benefit from them. Wikipedia operates on a similar concept, and credible citations are crucial to the encyclopaedia’s reliability.

“The journal we originally published the paper in is free and open access, and we chose the journal for that reason,” he said. “People noticed and said, ‘Hey, we have an updated climate map, we’ll use that’, and then it spread.”

At the time, open access journals were rare.

“I have always been a supporter of open science,” Finlayson said. “Research is no good to anyone locked in a cupboard, or published in a journal you have to pay a lot of money to access.”

He said he first began working with paper co-author McMahon in 1981, and that they got to know Murray, who is “a fair bit younger,” when he became one of their PhD students.

“He did his PhD on global hydrology and kept working with us in that area over the years, and we are all still very good friends and kept publishing together,” Finlayson, now 73, said. “We agree on most of the serious things and then every now and then we have differences of opinion. So we talk about it, and then we set out to test who is right, and write a paper on the results.

“If you want to form an academic group of people who work together well, the fact that they’re friends helps a lot. You’re not concerned about things like someone getting more kudos than you are.”



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Australia newsAustralian politicsBiometricsData protectionFacial recognitionPeter DuttonSurveillanceVictoriaVictorian politics

Victoria threatens to pull out of facial recognition scheme citing fears of Dutton power grab | Technology

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Victoria has threatened to pull out of a state and federal government agreement for the home affairs department to run a facial recognition system because the bill expands Peter Dutton’s powers and allows access to information by the private sector and local governments.

In October the Council of Australia Governments agreed to give federal and state police real-time access to passport, visa, citizenship and driver’s licence images for a wide range of criminal investigations.

The identity matching services bill, introduced in February, enables the home affairs department to collect, use and disclose identification information including facial biometric matching.

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In a submission to the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, the Victorian special minister of state, Gavin Jennings, warned that the bill provided “significant scope” for the home affairs minister to expand his powers beyond what was agreed.

This includes the ability to collect new types of identification information and expand identity matching services. For example the bill would allow the commonwealth to collect not just driver’s licence information but also proof-of-age cards, and firearms and marine licences – some of which can be held by children as young as 12.

The commonwealth could collect information that Victoria was not authorised to disclose under its own legislation, the submission warned.

It said citizens may not be adequately informed that information they provide to get a driver’s licence, including biometric data, could be “reused for other law enforcement purposes”.

In its submission the home affairs department said the bill would “enable rather than authorise the use of the services by various government agencies” and the systems would still be governed by federal, state and territory privacy laws.

The Victorian submission said the states had agreed that the private sector would not be given access to the facial verification and identity data-sharing services.

But the bill did not “contain such a restriction, allowing non-government entities to use all identity-matching services” if they met certain conditions, it said.

As the home affairs department explained in its submission, those conditions included that private-sector entities would only have access to verification services, not to identify unknown individuals, and would require the consent of the person whose identity was being checked.

It defended private-sector access to the information, arguing that it would allow financial institutions and telcos “to contribute to national security and law enforcement outcomes”.

The Victorian government submission also complained that providing identity-matching services to local government authorities “goes beyond what was agreed to”. VicRoads “may not be authorised” to share information with the national driver’s licence facial recognition system because of this overreach.

Jennings requested that the commonwealth revise the bill to align it with the agreement. He warned that if the scope of the driver’s licence facial recognition scheme was expanded as proposed in the bill Victoria “would need to consider whether it wishes to participate … and if so, the legal basis on which it would rely”.

Victoria also called for further checks and balances to limit the home affairs department’s use and disclosure of information.

The department submitted that the bill would allow it to help prevent identity crime, which affects 5% of Australians and is estimated to cost $2.2bn a year. “Identity crime is also a key enabler of serious and organised crime, including terrorism,” the submission said.

In addition to invoking the most serious offences, the home affairs department also acknowledges that the systems would be used for “the provision of more secure and accessible government and private-sector services” and “improving road safety through the detection and prosecution of traffic offences”.

The Queensland office of the information commissioner submitted that the bill did not prevent “blanket surveillance techniques” but argued that “indiscriminate use of the face-matching services would not be feasible in practice”.

Agencies would “continue to be subject to legislative privacy protections and information-sharing restrictions that already apply to them”, it said.

The home affairs department said further protections would be included in face-matching services participation agreements, which would require agencies to undertake compliance audits.

“These arrangements are being established and agreed between the commonwealth and all states and territories,” it said. “They are based on the principle that each state and territory retains control over decisions on how its data is shared.”



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Australia newsAustralian politicsInternetNational broadband network (NBN)Technology

NBN’s speed slowed by reliance on copper network, its CEO admits | Technology

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The national broadband network’s reliance on copper has led to a higher fault rate and slower internet speeds but helped deliver the network faster and cheaper, its outgoing chief executive has said.

In a position paper released on Friday, Bill Morrow is frank about the challenges of fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) technology and use of the copper network, a signature policy of Malcolm Turnbull in his time as communications minister.

Labor’s original design for the NBN planned to deliver fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) to 93% of Australian homes and businesses, but NBN Co changed course when the Coalition, upon winning government in late 2013, directed it to use a mix of technologies.

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Morrow credits use of the existing copper and pay TV networks with “a faster network build and a lower cost-per-premises”, but adds that it has had consequences, including limitations on the maximum speed when compared with “the previous fibre-based model”.

A third-party review by Vertigan found minimum peak speeds of 15 megabits per second (Mbps) would be “adequate for most households now and into the near future”, and the copper-based FTTN network is “sufficient until the demand exceeded these levels”.

Morrow said the use of copper in the last 1km of the network has “increased [the] fault rate and operating costs versus the all-fibre alternative”, but added the increased fault rate was “felt to be within reason”.

“These incremental costs are factored into the improved economics and are a small fraction of the incremental costs to build fibre to every home,” he said.

A third consequence of ditching fibre-to-the-premises in favour of a technology mix is a longer co-existence period, where the network uses the same lines as legacy voice and broadband services.

During that period the FTTN network delivers maximum download speeds of 12Mbps and upload speeds of 1Mbps, compared with maximum download speeds of 25Mbps and upload speeds of 5Mbps afterwards.

Pre-existing infrastructure “is sometimes worse than anticipated”, Morrow said, but the solution is a “reasonable trade-off” for the faster rollout and lower cost.

Morrow acknowledges the profitability of NBN Co is being squeezed by retailers seeking to compete on price by using other networks, including mobile services, to better serve end-users.

He states NBN Co charges the same wholesale price for high-density low-cost-to-build areas, which then subsidises low-density high-cost-to-build areas, creating an incentive for retailers to bypass the NBN in high-density areas.

“Our business plan today assumes a healthy amount of competition but some are questioning whether it is enough,” Morrow said.

Still, 74% of households are expected to connect to the NBN, he said.

Earlier this month a report by the telecommunications industry ombudsman revealed complaints about the NBN soared by more than 200% over the last six months of 2017 compared with July to December 2016.

It found there were 22,827 complaints lodged between July and December 2017 about the broadband network, including 14,055 about service quality and 8,757 about delays in establishing an NBN connection.

A spokeswoman for NBN Co said that of the 22,827 complaints about services delivered over the NBN, less than 5% (1,052) were sent to NBN Co to resolve.

In the position paper Morrow blames customer complaints on the complexity of the build and its unprecedented pace, and also points the finger at retailers. He argues that “we end up with too many, albeit the minority, who are dissatisfied with their experience” in part due to “an often confusing demarcation between responsible parties”.

Morrow said NBN Co is “technology agnostic” and wanted to “get to every Australian as soon as possible at the least possible cost and make sure it has a minimum performance level both now and with upgrades going into the future”.

NBN has also announced 1.5m homes and businesses who are not already connected to FTTN will get new fibre-to-the-kerb technology over the next two years, which is faster because it uses less of the copper network.



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Australia newsBusiness (Australia)Cambridge AnalyticaFacebookSocial networkingTechnology

Facebook data harvesting and the hunt for the ‘friend’ who betrayed me | Michael McGowan | Technology

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Two weeks ago I logged into good old Facebook dot com to discover I was one of the 311,127 Australians – and one of about 87 million people worldwide – who had their personal data harvested by Cambridge Analytica sometime around 2013-15.

I was a small and unwitting cog in a vast, beguiling narrative of unfurling geopolitical upheaval encompassing the Trump presidency, Russian interference and Brexit.

Here’s what Facebook told me. I was not one of the 270,000-odd people who signed up to the now infamous This is Your Digital Life survey app but one of my friends was. As a result, Facebook “probably” shared my public profile, page likes, my date of birth and the city I lived in.

Oh, and if I’d written messages – public or private – to my friend who did the quiz, they might have shared those too.

Guardian Australia has revealed that only 53 people in Australia installed the app. Was one of my friends among them? Did they know what they were getting me into? What did they buy with the few dollars they were paid to complete the survey?

So for the past two weeks, with the thought that Donald Trump being in the White House is maybe a little bit my fault sloshing around in my head, I’ve undertaken the most socially awkward investigation of my career.

It was a mostly pointless and frankly harrowing deep dive into the bowels of my own Facebook account in search of patient zero. Like having unprotected sex with 500 people for a decade and then trying to figure out which one of them gave you chlamydia.

The results so far are inconclusive. Prime suspects – such as my father, whose habit of clicking incoherently on pretty much anything the internet prompts him to is legendary – have proved to be dead ends. The guy from university who appears to be preternaturally geared towards sharing random Buzzfeed quizzes has been given the all clear.

I’ve narrowed it down to about 40 of my 436 current Facebook contacts, mostly by sending a pro forma message to hundreds of my friends and asking them to check whether their data was compromised. (Facebook has started warning me that it “looks I’m using this feature in a way that it wasn’t meant to be used”, which almost feels too obviously ironic to bother pointing out.)

Most people have been happy to show me screenshots but a troubling number of so-called friends have seen the message and not responded. I glower at the little picture of them in the chat window, my suspicion growing.

Others have proved frustratingly resource intensive. Facebook friendship runs infamously parallel to actual friendship, and I have had to spend hours catching up on what X from high school has been doing in the past 11 years in an effort to convince them I am not a spambot.

There are any number of holes in my search method, of course. There’s nothing stopping them from lying to me and there’s a lingering feeling of distrust surrounding those who simply respond “wasn’t me” and then ignore follow-up questions about whether they actually checked.

But what happens if it turns out to be none of them? By downloading my Facebook data I know there are about 60 other former friends who I deleted in culling sprees in 2013 and 2015. If I get to the end of my current list, I will have to start contacting those people.

The conversations will be … weird. What about P, a girl I added after meeting in a nightclub in the north of England about eight years ago and never spoke to again? I looked up her profile the other night. She’s married now and looks as happy as can be reasonably expected in 2018.

Presumably she is unaware that Jared Kushner may well know she likes the film Boyhood.

Can I really bring myself to tell her?



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Facebook says its free news feed is helping journalism | Technology

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Facebook has told the Australian competition regulator that news makes up just 5% of the content shared on the platform, and the social media giant is helping journalism by providing a free global distribution service for publishers.

In its submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into the impact of digital platforms on media and advertising, Facebook also downplayed its collection and use of people’s data, saying many organisations, including newspapers, collected similar data.

“Facebook does not sell or provide data to advertisers,” the company said. “We provide them the ability to target their advertisements.”

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In a 56-page document, the company said the Facebook news feed was less than 5% news, and was a “free platform for global content distribution and promotion” which allowed publishers to connect with readers and advertisers. Facebook offers tools and products to publishers which allows them to promote their content and reach new readers.

This week Google said in its submission it was not contributing to the death of journalism.

Facebook criticised some of the information in the ACCC’s issues paper as inaccurate in its portrayal of the digital ecosystem of Facebook, publishers, businesses and consumers. The inquiry is looking into the the impact of Facebook, Google and Apple on the level of choice in news content and its quality.

A graphic published by the ACCC “does not adequately convey the value that digital platforms provide to consumers”, Facebook said.

Facebook portrayed itself as just one platform among many in a rapidly changing environment which demanded constant innovation and was competing for advertising with Snapchat, Google, YouTube, Amazon and others.

The average person now used eight different services to connect with friends and businesses and Facebook was just one of them competing for the attention of consumers and advertisers, the company said. Facebook said it spent more than $6bn a year on research and development to keep up with its competitors in innovation.

“If we stop innovating someone else will innovate around us – making us obsolete,” the submission said. “We know if we cease to be useful people will leave.”

But it admitted its privacy settings and other tools had been too hard to find and information about data collection was not clear. It said it had recently improved those services, but users should understand that their information was key to providing a personalised service.

“Our core value to consumers comes from the highly personalised and relevant experience we provide,” the submission said. “Information that people provide about themselves allows us to provide this experience and is therefore integral to the Facebook experience.”

Earlier this month Australia’s privacy commissioner launched an investigation to determine whether Facebook had breached the Australian Privacy Act after it was revealed up to one in 50 local users may have had their personal information accessed by Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook said in its submission that combating the spread of fake news was a priority. It was now banning advertisers who spread false information and users would see less content from those who shared clickbait headlines – even though the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, admitted it would “considerably impact our profitability”.

The submission emphasised the benefits to local businesses from advertising on Facebook. More than 200 million people around the world were connected to an Australian business and most of them were small players, it said. More than 350,000 local businesses spent less than $US100 on advertising on Facebook in 2017.

In a separate submission to the inquiry, the ABC said it worked with Facebook, Google and other digital platforms to distribute its content, to increase engagement and to ensure more people discovered ABC content.

In 2017, 49.9% of Australians between the ages of 18 and 75 accessed ABC news and current affairs content, and the ABC reached 18.8% of Australian adults each week through third-party digital platforms, the submission said.

“The challenge of monetising digital content in this disrupted and increasingly global media landscape has coincided with a decline in the level of trust the public places in traditional sources of news media,” the ABC said.

“Overall, audience trust in the Australian media as an institution is at an all-time low, and the level of trust in the mainstream media’s ability to tell full, accurate and fair news has decreased.

“Simultaneously, digital platforms have contributed to an increase in public concern about fake news and there is a growing demand for news and journalistic content that is explained and verified.

“In this environment, the ABC – an independent and trusted Australian media organisation – has an increasingly important role to play; 81% of Australian adults trust the information provided by the ABC.”



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Google tells Australian regulator it is not contributing to ‘the death of journalism’ | Technology

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Google sent more than 2bn visits to Australian news websites last year and is optimistic about the ability of quality journalism to survive the digital disruption, the company has told the competition regulator.

In a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into the impact on media from digital platforms, Google says the internet has made news more diverse, specialised and accessible, and traditional media is adapting.

Technology has changed the way we consume news but does “not mean the death of journalism” Google Australia’s managing director, Jason Pellegrino, said. “In fact, our appetite for quality journalism is on the rise.

“According to Enhanced Media Metrics Australia, 90% of Australians read Australian news media and readership has been increasing.”


Google said it did not sell users’ data to third parties and has revealed local data for the first time, saying Australians visited their Google accounts more than 22m times in 2017 to control how their data was being used.

The chairman of the ACCC, Rod Sims, has warned that criminal sanctions would apply if the tech giants, including content aggregators such as Apple News and social media platforms such as Facebook, failed to assist the inquiry. But Google has adopted a conciliatory tone, saying it “appreciates both the challenges and opportunities that the internet has created and continues to create”.

Google paints an upbeat picture of how traditional media is adapting to the decline of print advertising and sales by quoting subscription growth at major publishers.

“Digital subscribers at News Corp Australia’s mastheads were 389,600 as of December 31, 2017, compared to 309,200 the year prior – an increase of more than 25% over one year,” the submission says.

“As at December 2017, paid digital subscribers for the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and the Australian Financial Review had reached more than 283,000, an increase of more than 50,000 in five months.”

But in a separate submission the leading Australian television network, Seven, says Google enjoys “significant market power” and is unconstrained by competitors or regulation, which negatively impacts traditional media and ultimately consumers.

Seven says the digital search engines and other platforms have had a significant impact not just on news but on local content production, and on the operating model of free-to-air television.

“Google is the main digital search engine used in Australia and globally and advertising accounted for 84.2% of its US$32.3bn total revenue in the fourth quarter of 2017,” the Seven network said in its ACCC submission. “Facebook is the leading social media platform globally and, in 2017, advertising accounted for 98% of its US$40.7bn of revenue.”

Seven West Media said the trend of falling TV advertising revenues and increasing production costs were causes for concern in terms of the future sustainability of local television shows.

“Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and in light of the sheer scale and nature of the data held by these two businesses, it is clear that regulators need to do more to investigate and shine a light on the behaviour of these two companies in data collection, and to consider whether the existing regulatory regime is sufficient to protect the interests of users, to maintain competition in associated markets and to constrain undue influence and power being exerted over businesses and government,” Seven said.

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Seven’s submission echoed that of the free-to-air television lobby, which has called for the digital giants to be more accountable for the migration of the advertising market from newspapers and television towards the digital duopoly.

Pellegrino said Google had developed many tools to help newsrooms and to support journalists and quality journalism.

“The way that people consume news may change but the need for quality journalism does not,” Pellegrino wrote on the Google blog on Monday.

“Ultimately, consumers will be the ones who decide whether news publishers flourish but, on present form, there is every reason to believe that they will.”



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Australia joins US and UK in blaming Russian-backed hackers for cyber-attacks | Technology

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Australia has joined the US and UK in publicly blaming Russia for a “malicious” global cyber-attack last year. The attack appeared to be an attempt at espionage, stealing intellectual property and laying the foundation for a future attack on infrastructure.

Australia joined a coordinated announcement sheeting the blame home to Russian state-sponsored actors. The US and the UK held rare coordinated conference calls on Monday to reveal their findings on the malicious activity identified in August 2017.

The attacks targeted Cisco routers with “Smart Install” and potentially affected government departments, companies and infrastructure facilities running Cisco equipment.

Tensions with Russia have escalated since the US and UK’s weekend strikes on targets in Syria suspected of being involved in the manufacture of chemical weapons.

While Australia did not take part in the strikes – the US, UK and France carried them out – Australia has been part of previous actions in Syria. There has been speculation that Russia will retaliate in the form of cyber-attacks.

It took months of investigations to trace the origin of the August cyber-attacks, authorities said, and Tuesday’s announcement was not in response to developments in Syria.

“Based on advice from Australian intelligence agencies, and in consultation with our allies, the Australian government has determined that Russian state-sponsored actors are responsible for this activity, which occurred in 2017,” the minister for law enforcement and cybersecurity, Angus Taylor, said in a said in a statement.

“These incidents are unacceptable and the Australian government calls on all countries, including Russia, not to take actions that could lead to damage of critical infrastructure that provide services to the public.

“Commercially available routers were used as a point of entry, demonstrating that every connected device is vulnerable to malicious activity.”

While a significant number of Australian organisations had been affected, there was no indication Australian information had been compromised, he said.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre has been providing mitigation advice to companies and internet service providers that may have been affected.

In August it issued a warning saying that switches with Cisco Smart Install accessible from the internet, and routers or switches with simple network management protocol enabled and exposed to the internet, were vulnerable.

It said that the malicious activity enabled sensitive information, such as device administrative credentials, to be accessed and that it could be used to compromise the routers and then lead to other devices on the network being targeted.

“Access to the device may facilitate malicious cyber adversaries gaining access to the information that flows through the device,” the agency warned.

US and UK officials said in their conference call they had high confidence that Russia was to blame.

In a joint statement, said they said the cyber-attack had been aimed not just at the UK and US but globally. “Specifically, these cyber-exploits were directed at network infrastructure devices worldwide such as routers, switches, firewalls, network intrusion detection system,” it said.

“Russian state-sponsored actors are using compromised routers to conduct spoofing ‘man-in-the-middle’ attacks to support espionage, extract intellectual property, maintain persistent access to victim networks and potentially lay a foundation for future offensive operations.”

The US and UK have previously blamed Russia for cyber-attacks such as the crippling attacks last year that created disruption worldwide, including to the National Health Service, and an intrusion into the US energy grid.

But they portrayed this as far more serious because of the potential to undermine infrastructure. Millions of machines had been targeted in a “sustained” campaign and the US and UK admitted they still did not know the full extent to which the system had been compromised.



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