Conroy's paternalism misses target

Our great Communications Minister's limited focus on scary dangers like Facebook leaves many real net nasties unaddressed in Safer Internet Day activities.
Written by Alex Serpo, Contributor

commentary Our great Communications Minister's limited focus on scary dangers like Facebook leaves many real net nasties unaddressed in Safer Internet Day activities.

According to a press release issued by Stephen Conroy's office, Australia is one of more than 50 countries expected to recognise Safer Internet Day yesterday. So how are we recognising it? The government has organised:

  • "Social networking and consumer safety forums for secondary school students,
  • The launch of new cyber-bullying initiatives for primary school children on the SuperClubsPLUS Australia website, and
  • The launch of the Cybersmart Detectives Game in schools in NSW."

So Conroy's focus is cyber-bullying, and the young. Particularly, he singles out "Facebook, MySpace, Habbo Hotel and Bebo". While some may consider these to be dangerous sites, cyber-bullies on these networks can be made to disappear with a single click.

Wherever you sit on the cyber-bullying debate, what is clear is that Conroy's plan neglects many of the major issues facing the internet today.

What concerns me is that while the minister's teams were furiously looking for suspicious characters on Habbo Hotel, Australians are increasingly becoming victims of online fraud.

Closer examination of Conroy's plan will reveal he is committing $125.8 million over the next four years. Of the $125.8 million, the vast majority ($116.6 million) is going towards the controversial internet filter. Other funding is going towards the Australian Federal Police (AFP) Child Protection Operations Team, and other initiatives.


Stephen Conroy
(Credit: DBCDE)

If the minister was to give the entire sum to the AFP, then surely a great deal of the cybercrime that currently goes unaddressed could be dealt with. After all, in 2008 four in 10 Australians identified themselves as victims of cybercrime, leaving one to assume that the cybercrimes unit at the AFP is seriously overworked.

Online fraud also creates a huge burden on the economy, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimating that in 2007 fraud cost Australia a billion dollars.

This online fraud business is supported by a massive proliferation of malware for profit. Raimund Genes, CTO of security giant Trend Micro, predicted that: "By 2010, every file that is opened will need to be scanned against 20,000,000 signatures".

This endless proliferation of malware presents an exponentially increasing burden to Australian businesses, who are trying to engage new customers in e-commerce.

These new customers are the key; people who are taking their first steps into online shopping are mostly likely to be the victims of fraud. Such bad experiences can turn them away from digital commerce permanently.

The irony here is that the Federal Government plan looks like misplaced paternalism, as the young are often more internet-savvy than the old.

While there may be some merit in Conroy's plans to protect the young from online dangers, the minister's $125 million would be better spent protecting all Australians against online fraud.

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