Monday, July 27, 2009

Government 2.0 Taskforce Issues Paper

The Government 2.0 Taskforce, charged with the task of 'finding ways of accelerating the development of Government 2.0 to help government consult, and where possible actively collaborate with the community, to open up government and to maximise access to publicly funded information through the use of Web 2.0 techniques' is seeking your input. They are seeking comments and feedback on the Issues Paper, released on 23 July 2009.
Input must be received by the Taskforce by start of business Monday 24 August 2009.
Key issues are:
  • access to and use of public sector information
  • access and innovation
  • online engagement

The taskforce will provide a final report on it activities and achievements by the end of 2009, so if you have a contribution to make to this consultation act quickly!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Australia's Digital Economy: Future Directions

On 14 July, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy, released the Australia's Digital Economy: Future Directions Final Report.
I will restrict my comments essentially to the copyright issues and implications raised by the Report. For those of you wondering what the 'digital economy' actually is, the Australian Government definition is:
'The global network of economic and social activities that are enabled by information and communications technologies, such as the internet, mobile and sensor networks.'
The Report is expressed to outline 'the areas of focus for government, industry and the community to maximise the benefits of the digital economy for all Australians.' The Report breaks up the elements of the successful digital economy among three stakeholders: government, industry and comunity, each with different outcomes.
For Government, the success factors include facilitating innovation, and reference is made to the outcomes of the Innovation Review : Powering Ideas, launched on 12 May 2009.
The Future Directions Report again emphasises the need to open up access to government information: 'In addition to promoting public sector innovation, government can also faciliatate private sector innovation for digital ecoomy benefit through more open information strategies and an innovation agenda designed to promote a strong culture of commercialising digital innovation.'
Whilst this is so broadly worded one can only guess what it may mean, it is intended to refer, at least in part, to access to knowledge platforms such as Creative Commons. The Report continues:
'A open access approach to the release of public sector information is a logical response to the digital economy and innovation benefits that can result from new and emerging digital use and re-use, subject to privacy, national security or confidentiality concerns. In this context "open access" means access on terms and in formats that clearly permit and enable such use and re-use by any member of the public. This allows anyone with an innovative idea to add value to existing public sector information for the common good, often in intially unforeseen or unanticipated ways.'
So if any of you have a fun idea for remixing a government report (for the common good) let me know! Although on a more serious note, this article by Paula Bray outlines an interesting project undertaken by the Powerhouse Museum using Flickr.
The Government 2.0 Taskforce has been instructed to advise and assist with respect to making public sector information more accessible and usable. (More about them in a later blog.)
The Report then picks up the question of copyright safe harbours, wondering aloud whether the present safe harbour scheme works effectively for some types of online service providers? The Report outlines the pros and cons and then states that the Government will be considering whether the scope of the safe harbour scheme should be expanded to include additional types of online service providers.
Finally, the Report states that the issue of peer-to-peer file sharing is currently being considered by Government, noting that the content industry has stated that file-sharing is 'a barrier to further investment in sustainable and innovative content initiatives in Australia ' (presumably this is only illegal file sharing). The possible solution noted by the Report is the 'three strikes' or 'graudated response' approach, pursuant to which ISPs would send notices to users suspected of unauthorised file sharing, outlining an escalating level of penalties on the user's account. So watch out for work on reform of this area soon. Only oblique reference is made to the current Internet filtering trials.

BTW on a related note, for some of my thoughts on the Innovation Review you can see my slides from the Australian Copyright Council conference in November 2008 here.
I will be presenting on the topic of copyright and innovation on 6 August here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Young Australians' use of social networking: ACMA report

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has released a Report prepared for it on the use of online social media by young Australians. The report is in two parts:
  • Qualitative Research Report
  • Quantitative Research Report

Some interesting aspects of the Qualitative Report:

The definition of social networking service used by the Report:

'A social networking service (SNS) can be defined as an online social network for communities of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests or activities of others. As a member of a social networking service, individuals can "chat" with each other via messaging, email, video or voice chat, share photos and videos and post comments in online forums, blogs or discussion groups. Profiles may contain personal information such as real life photos and descriptive comments about the member.'

However, the Report recognised that different names were used for different types of services and no common terminology could be clearly identified.

Importantly, the Report concludes that the Internet is a regular part of the lives of young Australians aged 8 to 17 years and is part of both the home and the school environment. The nature of Internet use and the types of online forums used by children and teenagers changes as children mature, reflecting their social development and their gender. Younger children use the Internet for entertainment preferring game websites, with teenagers reaching out beyond their face to face friendship group to explore new friendships. (For more detail on this see the Quantitative Report)

These differing uses give rise to a range of different risks, both perceived and actual. The Report considered three key areas of risk: content, contact and privacy, which were identified by the EU Kids Online Report. Of these three, it appears from the ACMA Report that the dangers associated with a failure to protect their own privacy poses the most immediate and general risks to users. The notion of protecting their privacy is inconsistent with the desire to use these sites to attract attention ie the 'signalling' or 'waving' behaviour identified by Judith Donath. Further, the Report notes that whilst users may have a 'high awareness of the obvious risks of online use' young people still engage in dangerous behaviour, as '[e]xploring the unknown and pushing the boundaries is a natural part of growing up.'

The Report confirms that a great deal of effort is devoted to the creation and maintenance of online profiles. 'User-generated social networking services' are recognised by the Report as playing a key role in 'teenagers' efforts to conform to group norms and culture, and develop and maintain social currency.'

Interestingly though, the Report notes that parents 'held the view that social networking services were often seen by their children as part of a "fantasy land" where children and young people were either unaware or could easily believe that their interactions did not have real world consequences.' Whilst it may be believable that many parents held this view, I think further in-depth analysis is necessary to confirm that the users themselves hold this view. I also suggest that there could be a big difference here amongst the age-groups and the various online forums they are accessing. The consequences of this belief (where it exists) merits further exploration.

The Report concludes that young Australians are reasonably adept at recognising and managing risk, through a combination of abiding by the advice given to them (predominantly by schools and to a lesser extent parents, whose main authority is derived from the ability to withdraw computer access), commonsense, learning from experience (after encountering a problem online directly or by learning of friends' bad experiences) and finally, resilience. The Report's reflection of the need for young people to encounter and to learn from online experiences is refreshing and grounded in an absence of the hysteria which has frequently attended discussion of these issues in the Australian media. There is also a disconnect over what parents may see as the key risks and those which are actually encountered by users eg online predators.

That said, there is still a need to inform and educate users about the risks they face and, in particular, to warn them about the digital footprint they are creating. Therefore the report makes some key recommendations about future projects to warn and educate users about risks they may face. It makes for interesting reading and a launching place for more work in this area.