Vox Populi: CeBIT 2010 delegates talk net filtering, NBN and R18+ games

Computerworld Australia polls the IT community

The IT community has blasted the Federal Government's proposed mandatory Internet filter, and remains cautious but warm to the $43 billion National Broadband Network (NBN).

Computerworld Australia interviewed delegates perusing the floor at the CeBIT 2010 technology conference in Sydney this week to canvas opinion on the benefits, drawbacks and relevance of the Internet filtering scheme, the NBN, a R18+ classification for video games, and how to address content piracy online.

Internet content filtering

The technologically aware public is both cynical and bemused by the move to filter the nation's Internet, according to responses from CeBIT delegates.

Under the plan, the Federal Government would mandate all Internet service roviders (ISPs) install web filters to remove online material that the regulator has refused classification, including content deemed too violent, pornographic or abusive.

All interviewed delegates said the plan will fail in its goals due technology loopholes such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

"It's inappropriate and will be ineffective. It’s the parent's responsibility to control children's exposure to content online - I wasn't allowed a computer in my room as a child. A really badly implemented filter won't protect everyone in the country," delegate Douglas Lawrence-Plant said.

"It won’t help anyone. Anyone can get a VPN and the people the filter targets like paedophiles will certainly try to get around it,” said one software engineer for a vendor showcasing at CeBIT.

Darryl, a compliance auditor at financial institution, said he believes the government has ulterior motives for filtering the Internet.

"[The government] knows it won't work, as you've undoubtedly heard from interviewing people in the [technology] industry, but it keeps charging ahead. Maybe it will be popular with mums and dads, I'm not sure [but] they might have another reason that they aren't telling us. Why else would [the Federal Communications Minister] push something so publicly unpopular?" he said, adding that function-creep is a "real risk"

The NBN

Opinion is mixed on the benefits of tipping billions into the NBN. The government and NBN Co say the fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network will provide jobs, new business opportunities, improvements to essential services and of course, consumer entertainment.

Most delegates agreed, but some were caught on the prodigious expenditure with what was considered a risky return on investment model.

"What if uptake is small? Who can say that everyone will pay for [100Mbps] Internet [access] - I would, but I'm a nerd," said one IT network engineer.

"It's a whopping amount of money," said another delegate, an accountant with an interest in technology. She said the economy is in good stead to handle the expenditure, but echoed concerns about return on investment.

"It's about time that we join the rest of the world," Jim Lawrence-Plant said. "We live in the Blue Mountains and we struggle to get 8Mbps. There are people that are entitled to Internet access that can't get it - they are lost in political rhetoric."

R18+ video games

Efforts to convince the government to introduce an R18+ classification for video games have failed for more than 10 years. The gaming industry is seeking to introduce the rating to prevent the banning of games unsuitable for Australia’s maximum MA15+ rating.

One delegate said video games can be too graphic, as he watched another player shoot through a level in popular war game Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2.

“The consumer has more active participation in a game than a movie. Psychologists have said that can create real violence in a person – it might be in 1 or 2 per cent and it might be dormant, but you can end up with something like [the 1996] Columbine [Massacre],” he said, but stopped short of deciding whether the rating was appropriate.

Another said parents would still buy the R18+ game “to shut kids up”, and said shut a rating would require mandatory identity checks and censorship of advertisements.

However, a R18+ rating would, if identity checks were required, be more appropriate than the current system according to the general consensus among interviewed delegates of both sexes, aged from 18 to 60.

“The more you restrict something, the more you create a novel avenue for people to circumvent the controls. Smoking, alcohol; Whenever there are restrictions, there are blackmarkets. If your game is banned, then you’ll buy it over the Internet,” Jim Lawrence-Plant said.

Online piracy

Delegates were unsure how to address the growth of illegal sharing of copyrighted materials online.

“The studios need to do something to make movies cheaper and accessible – I paid about $40 for a couple of movie tickets, but can download a pirate movie for free,” said one University of Sydney student.

“I would pay for temporary access to watch a movie [online] for a few bucks.”

Opinion was mixed about whether Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are responsible for copyright infringements of their subscribers.

Computerworld Australia interviewed about 20 delegates.

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