November 2021 Roundup

As we wind up 2021 and distract ourselves with family and friends, it is―as per the Australian government’s worst tradition―the season for under the radar policy changes.

Anonymity―why it matters

This month we co-hosted a roundtable with Twitter, focusing on anonymity online and why it matters. We invited experts in tech policy, industry, academics, and representatives from marginalised groups to share their expertise, research, and perspectives on why anonymity and pseudonymity is so vital.

You can watch the full video here, or you can read a write up in The Guardian or ZDNet.

Social media ‘anti-trolling’ bill 

While we’re on the subject of anonymity, you may have seen that the government announced its social media ‘anti-trolling’ bill on Sunday morning (who needs a weekend, right?). While the text of the bill is yet to be revealed, it promises to allow social media platforms to avoid liability for defamation as publishers if they ‘unmask’ anonymous users should they be subject to a defamation complaint. You can listen to this segment on 3CR to hear our Program Lead talk through some of the reasons we’re concerned. 

This announcement comes only days after Peter Dutton successfully sued an activist for a six-word tweet. We’re alarmed that this bill will increase the ability for powerful people to weaponise defamation against those who attempt to criticise them. There is already a huge imbalance of power at play (like the money and time needed to pursue such an action), and the proposed legislation stands to skew the balance even further. 

We have written at length (for example, here!) about why anonymity and pseudonymity online is essential. One of the reasons is that it supports a healthy democracy. Now, the bill supposedly does not directly ‘ban’ anonymous accounts, but it will require platforms to be able to identify people, should the time come. As Cam Wilson highlights in this article, this introduces a de facto social media identification policy. Given that this sits alongside other attempts to undermine anonymity online (for example, in the Basic Online Safety Expectations), it’s clear that the government has its sights set on squashing anonymity.

Online Privacy Bill (no, not the Privacy Act)

While we’re in the midst of a review of the Privacy Act (much needed), the government has introduced a parallel draft Online Privacy Bill, ostensibly to address the privacy challenges posed by social media. The exposure draft requires the creation of an Online Privacy Code, which would be developed in consultation with industry. If you’re thinking―hey, sounds like the tech industry is responsible for coming up with a lot of solutions at the moment―you’d be right!

The main feature of the Online Privacy Bill is a strong focus on children’s privacy. Notably, the bill creates a requirement for social media companies to verify the age of individuals who seek to use their service, to consider ‘best interests of the child’, and to obtain parental or guardian consent for anyone who is under the age of 16.

Now, we agree that children’s privacy is important. But we also think that the best way to protect kids online is to improve privacy protections for everyone. Age verification introduces privacy and security risk, which goes against the very goal of the draft bill. Stay tuned for more from us on this. Submissions on the draft are due 10 December.

What Digital Rights Watch has been up to over the past month…

  • We continue to be actively involved in the public consultations surrounding the implementation of the Online Safety Act. This month we made a submission on the draft Restricted Access Systems (RAS) Declaration, as well as one on the draft Basic Online Safety Expectations (BOSE).
  • Lucie participated in a Parliamentary hearing about the Abhorrent Violent Material Act. Not sure what we’re talking about? Read more here.
  • Sam spoke with Yahoo about Clearview AI and Facebook’s announcement that they will delete over 1 billion faceprints. 
  • Sam joined the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner for a panel on privacy and consent. Watch it back here.
  • Fed up with Facebook, but intrigued by the Metaverse? Sam joined The Grapevine on 3RRR to discuss the future of the internet, and why it’s important that we keep showing up to ensure human rights are at the centre. Listen back here.
  • As always, Lizzie has been joining the fortnightly Burning Platforms. This month included a chat with DuckDuckGo about Google’s dominance online.

Don’t miss out—mark these upcoming events in your calendar!

  • UTS Centre for Social Justice & Inclusion is running a webinar on the uses and misuses of facial recognition technology. Facilitated by Ed Santow, it promises to be an important discussion about the risks of facial recognition technology. Register here.
  • If you’re in Melbourne, come along to the launch of The Public Square Project on 14 December at 6:30pm. This collection of work imagines alternative digital spaces that operate in the public interest, and features two of our Board Members: Lizze O’Shea and Mark Andrejevic. Register here
  • Save the date! Our next event is coming up on 13 January at 6pm AEDT. We have a great group of speakers lined up to explore how digital platforms are changing the way that activists, organisers and community leaders are able to build social movements. Read more and register here.
  • It’s not too late to register for FWD+Organise on 1-2 December, hosted by Progressive Tech Network, all about skill sharing between community organisers and digital campaigners.

December starts tomorrow and that means… a Digital Rights Advent Calendar! We started the tradition last year and had a great time with our followers getting into the spirit of digital rights.

So follow us on Twitter or Instagram for another 24 days of digital rights activities and resources. What better way to get ready for the new year than by getting your digital life in order, and we promise to leave you with plenty to talk about at all the holiday parties.