18 June 2010

Coming to your PC: the Rudd Desktop Assistant

Remember Clippit, the animated paper clip that would appear and offer assistance when you started using a Microsoft Office application for the first time? It might have impressed some people with its animated stunts, but when it came to delivering the help you needed, all too often it responded with irrelevant answers to your questions. It looked very friendly, but when you wanted to get down to doing serious work it became an annoying, unwelcome intrusion. Now just imagine what it would be like to have a Kevin Rudd variant of this feature running in the background on your PC all the time, because this is in essence what might pop up after downloading and installing the application that the Rudd Labor government just announced would be available for parents seeking protection for their children online.

When Senator Conroy's desktop panic button was launched last week, it was derided by the online community as a waste of taxpayers' money because it was nothing more than a help button which connects the child to resources online—or so they thought. It would be naive to think that this button—reported to cost $73,000 to develop and includes the ability to update itself automatically—will do nothing more in future.

Perhaps the Rudd Labor government intends to quietly dump its unpopular plan for mandatory ISP-level filtering by sneaking in an update for PC-based filtering. However, this is a custom-built application and development is ongoing—not an existing commercial product available off the shelf—so we can only guess what the government plans to do next with its panic button.

The intentions of the Rudd Labor government's ideas for the Internet need close scrutiny, because a picture is emerging of a government obsessed with centralised monitoring and regulation of activity on the Internet. If the government is planning to make ISPs retain the browsing history of Internet users as some people in the industry claim, then it is more out of touch than it seemed at first with its plans for mandatory ISP-level filtering. Internet users can conceal their browsing history via the same methods as those used to circumvent ISP-level filters, such browsing via a Web proxy. It is obvious that they are not listening to expert advice in the development of their policies.

No comments: