Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Senator Conroy, the digital economy and internet filtering

I finally have the chance to process some of my thoughts about the Tuesday morning sessions.

Senator Conroy, Minister for Broadband etc, got off to a good start by praising ALIA and the "vital role" it plays in developing future directions in information flow. Lots of good words about the value of the digital economy etc, and the necessity of providing education around media literacy - the ability to find and assess material on the internet.

However, the room suddenly got hostile when he moved on to the topic of internet filtering in public places to reduce cyber crime. There were plenty of public librarians (and general librarians) in the room with plenty of thoughts on filtering and freedom of access. Many of them contributed to the policy exposure draft last year, voicing concerns about the inaccuracy of filtering services leading to blocking of safe content (I should know, happens all the time at work) and how it also can slow down the entire system (I've also experienced that!) Conroy tried to reassure us that this would be extensively tested, but I'm not sure that many were convinced. Plus there was something that sounded suspiciously like a threat - that as publically funded, public institutions we will have to abide by govt policy. Ouch. Talk about insulting.

Anyway, Conroy also had some interesting statistics from an Australian report I shall have to follow up. Here they are:

73% of househoulds in Australia have access or use public services such as libraries.

72% read online news
62% use online maps
36% subscribe to e newsletters
37% look up health info
27% look up government info
24% look up local community info

26% engaged in online social networking
16% read blogs
13% online forums
12% online chat

I find some of these numbers surprisingly low, especially given the results of our own whitepaper. For example, we found that 33% read blogs compared to 16%. I have a theory that this is because we surveyed professionals, a highly educated & literate section of the population who are more likely to have regular internet access and an interest in blogs. What do you think?

Edited to add:
Read the speech transcript here.
View the speech here.


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