Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! speak out in ISP filter consultation

The big boys submitted their views in the Internet filter report's public consultation process

Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! have taken different tacks during public consultation over the Federal Government’s Internet filtering.

A discussion paper on Broadband Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy’s mandatory ISP filtering bill was released for public comment last December. The document offered several options for determining how refused classification (RC) content should be categorised.

On March 23, the Department of Broadband released submissions received during the discussion paper’s public consultation process.

Senator Conroy stressed only RC material, including content that promotes or incites crime, will be blocked by the proposed Internet clean-feed. One option was to allow individuals to notify the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) of potential RC content, allowing the group to assess the material, which would then be forwarded to the Australia’s Classification Review Board.

In its submission, Microsoft supported all suspected RC material being referred back to the classification board, but saw the ACMA’s involvement as cumbersome.

“As a representative body of the Australian community, the Classification Board is a body capable of independently reviewing decisions of those public servants within ACMA, who may make initial decisions about potential RC content,” Microsoft stated. “In Microsoft’s opinion, all material that is the subject of complaint and evaluation by ACMA officials should be forwarded to the Classification Board for prompt review and decision.”

The software heavyweight however, was staunchly opposed to industry groups participating in the RC content classification process.

“Microsoft believes the public in general, and not ‘industry’ representatives, are the appropriate review group for both classified material and the classification process,” the company said. “The public is responsible for supervising and reviewing the operation of this system of censorship.”

Google went beyond commenting on how RC content should be categorised and criticised the filter itself.

“Our primary concern is that the scope of content to be filtered is too wide,” the search engine giant said in its submission. “[M]oving to a mandatory ISP-level filtering regime with a scope that goes well beyond [content such as child pornography] is heavy-handed and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information.”

As well as issues surrounding content itself, Google flagged potential adverse effects on its users should infrastructure be filtered. As an example, it pointed to the Enex Testlab report last year, which said high traffic sites like Google’s subsidiary, YouTube, may cause performance bottlenecks.

For Yahoo! blocking websites dealing with controversial topics, such as euthanasia and abortion, was a major flaw.

“Clearly some of [the] content is controversial and, depending on one’s political beliefs, rather offensive,” the company said in its submission. “However, we maintain there is enormous value in this content being available to encourage debate and inform opinion.”

The search engine company also panned the current classification system underpinning the Internet filter proposal.

“The existing classification regime has developed in a piecemeal and reactionary manner with little regard to or basis upon empirical evidence around public attitudes or expert studies into how consumers interact with media, and particularly digital media,” it stated.

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