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Transport union wants Australian audit of Uber following London ban | Technology

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Uber should be audited to ensure it is operating up to community standards, the Transport Workers Union secretary has said after the ride-sharing service was banned in London for not being “fit and proper”.

Transport for London (TfL) has deemed the Silicon Valley technology giant was not fit and proper to hold a private vehicle hire licence and its current agreement will not be renewed when it expires on 30 September.

The decision has prompted TWU boss Tony Sheldon to write to state and federal transport ministers asking for a national audit of Uber, which is currently being investigated by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The ombudsman is examining whether Uber drivers’ contracts breach federal workplace laws and the union also has concerns about the employment structure.

“We want Uber to continue operating in Australia, but only if it can meet community expectations about safety and fairness, both for drivers and consumers,” Sheldon said on Saturday.

“We are all for ride-sharing platforms, but they must not be built on poor safety, weak oversight and exploitation of drivers.”

Uber, whose 40,000 drivers in London account for a third of private vehicles hired, said it would contest the UK decision. It will be allowed to operate until the appeals process is exhausted.

The TWU wants food delivery services, which operate similarly to Uber, included in the audit.

An Uber spokesman said the company would continue working closely with regulators.

“Australian governments have led the way globally in embracing ride sharing as a positive for both consumer choice and local economic opportunity,” he said.

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Australia newsAutomotive industryBusinessPrivacySelf-driving carsTechnology

Driverless cars: safer perhaps, but professor warns of privacy risks | Technology

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Driverless vehicles could build a “gold mine” of personal data for private companies and would make it easier for them to target people as consumers, an Australian law professor has warned.

Des Butler, of the Queensland University of Technology, said the privacy risks involved in driverless vehicles were a “sleeper issue” that regulators were yet to fully consider, even though car manufacturers say the technology could be on roads in Australia by 2020.

“These vehicles will know where you like to frequent, which businesses, and may very well build a profile of you,” Butler said. “People will go into these things not realising just how much data the vehicle will be generating about them and not knowing the extent to which the data can be used.”

On Thursday, the federal government formally launched a $55m bid to answer some of the questions that surround the nascent technology. The funding was awarded to iMOVE, an industry cooperative research centre made up of industry players and universities that want to develop technology to expedite “intelligent transport systems,” including driverless cars, in an attempt to reduce urban traffic congestion.

The managing director of iMOVE, Ian Christensen, said the goal was to play a role in “improving the movement of people and freight, in which driverless cars could play an important role”.

Christensen said the technology’s “largest benefit” would be reducing Australia’s road toll. There are about 1,300 deaths in Australia every year, and the annual cost of road crashes is estimated to be almost $30bn.

“It is a massive burden on the economy and the prospect for autonomous vehicles to substantially reduce the rate of accidents and trauma, therefore, stands to benefit the economy in a dramatic way,” Christensen said.

There are still gaps in the technology. Driverless cars still don’t know how to dodge kangaroos and last year a man in the US was killed when his Tesla Model S drove into a truck while in auto-pilot mode. But “at some level the technology is already developed or available”, Christensen said.

However, iMOVE concedes there are still significant questions about its benefits.

Last month, a parliamentary inquiry into social issues relating to the roll-out of driverless vehicles recommended the establishment of a national taskforce to deal with the “ownership, use and security frameworks applicable to the data generated by automated vehicles”.

It also recommended further investigation into establishing exactly who owned data produced by a car, and the rights of consumers, manufacturers, insurers and government agencies.

In its submission, iMOVE said people were “justifiably concerned about the collection of data and its subsequent use” and required a “clear understanding of what data is being collected” and why.

Cecilia Warren from insurer IAG said there were questions about who controlled that information.

“Is it the consumer’s data? Is it the manufacturer’s data? Is it the government’s data? All those questions are currently being grappled with by the National Transport Commission,” Warren said.

Butler said any conversation about regulation needed to consider who owned the data and how it could be stored.

“It is a sleeper issue because the focus on these vehicles in the public eye is on safety, not on the privacy or data production aspect of these vehicles.”

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Australia newsCultureGame cultureGamesGenderTechnology

‘Fed up with fantasies for male teenagers’: fixing the depiction of women in games | Culture

‘Fed up with fantasies for male teenagers’: fixing the depiction of women in games | Culture

When Nicole Stark set about writing a new video game, she took inspiration from an unusual subject: her autistic teenage daughter who was battling bullies.

“I was fed up with power fantasies for male teenagers,” says Stark, one half of Noosa-based family studio Disparity Games. “We wanted something different.”

Sick of seeing female protagonists who behaved “exactly like the male character but with large boobs”, Stark, with help from her daughter, created Gemma, a 16-year-old ninja pizza delivery girl who must navigate a dystopian world of sky-high slums, exploitative mega-corporations and the cruelest of adversaries: her own peers.

“It was important to make Gemma look like a 16-year old,” says Stark, recalling her career as an artist when she would routinely make the breasts smaller on female characters – only for male colleagues to routinely make them bigger.

Launched in 2015, Ninja Pizza Girl received favourable reviews. Then came the hate mail. In online forums, Disparity was accused of being a “cancer” that would destroy gaming; having a teenage female protagonist who talks about her feelings was declared “SWJ [social warrior justice] nonsense”.

“There’s a vocal sector in the gaming community that reacts very angrily when you challenge the status quo,” sighs Stark. “They’re the toddler in the sandpit who doesn’t want to share.”

In an industry worth just under $3bn in Australia alone, more than 70% of Australians play video games and just under half of players are women. Yet games remain – in narrative terms at least – very much a man’s world. With men traditionally dominating industry positions as writers, artists and creators, female lead characters have been few and far between. As late as 2014, Alex Amancio, the creative director at French game publisher Ubisoft, explained in an interview that there was not one playable female assassin in the blockbuster Assassin’s Creed Unity because generating them “was really a lot of extra production work”.

Video artist Nicole Stark took inspiration from her autistic teenage daughter, who was battling bullies, for her game Ninja Pizza Girl. Photograph: Diversity studios

The resulting scandal led to the viral Twitter hashtag #womenaretoohardtoanimate. Ubisoft is far from alone in the gaming work. Melbourne-based game artist Marigold Bartlett has heard multiple stories about women “risking their jobs simply by asking to include female characters. Even optionally. Even if that meant wearing the terrible costumes of yesteryear games”.

Those costumes consisted of big breasts and tiny waists accentuated in skintight outfits. While male characters come in all ages, shapes and sizes, female characters are uniformly young, slim and sexy: cue Lara Croft or female military unit the Saints who, in Hitman: Absolution hide latex fetish gear under nun’s habits. In Lingerie is Not Armor, part of online video series Feminist Frequency, media critic Anita Sarkeesian declares: “The problem isn’t just what we’re seeing in games. It’s what we’re not seeing.”

“Traditionally, women have been sidekicks, sexual objects or the prize that you win at the end,” states Katryna Starks, an associate lecturer in serious games at the University of the Sunshine Coast. “I would advocate for games that star women as having their own story where they are actually doing something – solving a mystery, going out in space.”

Bad attitudes persist today, insists Bartlett, who was recently commissioned to draw female characters for two different commercial projects. “One wasn’t sexy enough and the other often wasn’t drawn soft/feminine enough,” she says. “Both are highly respected studios, so it was quietly disappointing to see it’s still ingrained.”

As different voices are heard in the industry, however, games are slowly changing. In 2011-2012, just 8.7% of game developers were female according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics; that figure reached 15% in 2015-16. “Diverse teams create diverse games,” maintains Australian writer and narrative designer Brooke Maggs.

First introduced in 1996, Lara Croft is viewed as a turning point in games: a strong, kick-ass female protagonist who forges her own path. But “many of the other characters she interacts with are men”, says Maggs. “I’m more interested in stories that just happen to have a lot of women in them with multiple relationships and complexities.”

The sexy nun assassins known as The Saints depicted n Hitman: Absolution are typical of the off balance depiction of women in games.

The sexy nun assassins known as The Saints in Hitman: Absolution are typical of how women are depicted in games. Photograph: Youtube

What’s more, in AAA games – the biggest budget games developed by the biggest developers – age-old tropes drawing on biblical notions of women as the source of evil are routinely trotted out.

Sarkeesian pinpoints “the temptress” – who, like Eve in the Old Testament, lures men to their physical or metaphorical deaths through her fatal sexuality and duplicity – and “the grotesquely female”, foul creations whose very femaleness makes them monstrous (think killer babies fired from oversized nipples and a half-spider, half-naked woman with gigantic swinging breasts who is pregnant with a malformed foetus).

There’s also “women in refrigerators” who are killed early on in order to motivate the male hero in a revenge tale; the “damsel in distress” who the male hero must rescue; or, in combat games, a female operations person who provides instructions for the male hero but doesn’t actually fight.

To remedy this, Maggs is working on surreal puzzle game The Gardens Between, released next year. “I wanted to see a girl and a boy being friends rather than sweethearts or siblings,” she says. Central is 12-year-old female protagonist Arina and best friend Frendt. With no text or speech in The Gardens Between, it was critical, says Maggs, to make Arina look like a kid her age, one who is not “super girly”.

Other games, too, are starting to explore different female narratives. Life is Strange (2015) by French Dontnod Entertainment depicts a group of teenage female friends who must solve a mystery (it also features a rare example of a female character who has a different body type from the super-slim norm).

Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation (2012), meanwhile, stars Aveline de Grandpré, who is Creole and has the ability to sneak past guards while pretending to be a slave. For Starks, it is an important departure taking “a marginalised position and turning it into a secret power”.

Australian games are also starting to hit the mark. Bartlett is one of a core team developing Wayward Strand, set in rural Victoria in 1978 aboard a flying regional hospital. The lead character is Casey, a 14-year-old on her summer holidays who is helping her mother, the head nurse. The seven female characters “all have complex lives”, says Bartlett.

Gender stereotypes are not just reserved for women. True, male characters across the board tend have greater variation, simply by virtue of the fact there are more of them. Despite this, hypermasculinity remains a dominant motif.

“Overwhelmingly, male representation is terrible,” says Bartlett. “It’s been said before that the big fights surrounding games culture in recent years were the canary in the coalmine for some contemporary American politics, and I’d believe it based on what’s been sold through character idolisation for men.

“In AAA games, almost everyone is straight and white, American, and trained with guns or knives,” she says. Characters are either “thrust into their situation mysteriously or due to some outlandish government program, or are seeking revenge or fighting a war, all while trying to impress or save a white woman.”

Surreal puzzle game The Gardens Between features a realistic depiction of 12-year-old female protagonist Arina and her best friend Frendt.

Surreal puzzle game The Gardens Between features a realistic depiction of 12-year-old female protagonist Arina and her best friend Frendt. Photograph: Brooke Maggs

“For males, it’s a hero’s journey narrative,” says Starks. But while past heroes were flawless paragons of masculinity, games are now increasingly following in the wake of comics who have gone from celebrating the perfect superhero (the first incantation of Superman) to the flawed superhero (Spider-Man). Male characters in video games, too, are now battling their own traumas.

In 2003 John Carmack, co-founder of id Software, proclaimed: “Story in a game is like story in a porn movie: it’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.” Over a decade later, developing technology has provided ever more nuanced facial expressions – critical for showing emotion and character development. Games are increasingly becoming like mini-movies, with motivations explored through everything from carefully placed symbols to dialogue.

Taking advantage of this are games that show ordinary male characters struggling with events larger than themselves. Personal memoir game That Dragon, Cancer (2016) depicts a family dealing with their terminally ill son, including a father who is not in a position to deal out fantasies or heroic acts. In the exploration narrative game Gone Home, the father figure is a failed writer trying to make ends meet.

Still, there is a long way to go when it comes to gender representation. Maggs believes many AAA developers avoid depicting women altogether for fear of backlash over not doing it right: “You might make decisions not to include those characters because you don’t have the time or money to give that character the space and latitude and nuance they need.”

Thankfully for Stark – who funded Ninja Pizza Girl through a Kickstarter campaign – commercial pressures weren’t an issue: “We set out to make something we felt needed doing.”

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