Facebook, iPhone mafia games, cloud computing: Enemies of the state?


blog The chief executive of the Australian Crime Commission, John Lawler, gave the sort of speech last week that Australia’s security experts love to hear. In short, it was full of hyperbole about the dangers of the new “virtual world” that criminals are tapping into online. Some of the choice quotes:

Just as an aside, I’d like to mention that while researching this speech I came across a rather disturbing mobile phone game. It’s called iMob Online and players are asked to create a name and profile, selecting one of three mobster classes and then accumulate weapons, vehicles and “friends” to join their mob so that they can take on criminal missions and battle other mobsters.

I’m still wondering who the development consultant was for this game.

God knows what Lawler would think if he knew about the Grand Theft Auto series. And then there was this:

Already the UN is grappling with the complexities of cloud computing where data and programs cease to be stored on desktops and instead are stored remotely on a cloud of web servers that expands and contracts as needed, like hotmail or gmail accounts.

People are embracing this because they can access applications or data from anywhere in the world via any number of devices other than a computer.

But our existing law enforcement approach is that data is stored on a computer system. With cloud computing, where is the computer system? Where is the data? How do we gain access? How do we deal with cross-jurisdictional issues? Where is the victim and where were they when the crime occurred?

Now I don’t want to get into slamming Lawler’s speech too heavily. It contains a hard dose of common sense and overall it represents a good overview of some of the challenges that law enforcement authorities face in attempting to deal with a criminal underworld which is using modern technology to do “business”.

However, I do want to say one thing: If I was a criminal and I read this speech I would probably fall over laughing. The way that Lawler talks about such destructive technologies as iPhone mafia games — even if, as I suspect, that particular comment was an attempt at humour — reveals he feels a little bit uncomfortable in this ‘new world’.

The problem is, the fact that people are using commonplace technologies to commit crimes shouldn’t be anything new for Australia’s law enforcement authorities. Hotmail, Facebook, even iPhone apps and video games about the mafia — all of these things have been around for years. The fact that Lawler is discussing them this way kinda gives the impression that the Australian Crime Commission is out of date.

There is absolutely no reason why, in 2010, Australia’s police should be looking at Facebook, iPhone mafia games and even cloud computing as if these things are new, strange or hard to understand. These are the technologies that most of Australia lives and breathes every day. Of course criminals are going to be tapped into them — criminals are people too. So can’t Australia’s police hire a few ‘young guns’ who understand all this?

There must be plenty of senior police by now that really ‘get’ technology and don’t look at it as if it’s some kind of alien world.

I mean … it’s not rocket science, is it?

Image credit: iMob


  1. Maybe the concern with iMob wasn’t the game subject material but rather the personal information the user provides it or it can access, like the recent issues raised with regard to FaveBook apps.

    • Perhaps, but it seemed pretty clear to me that it was the game’s content that was the issue — teaching people to be criminals, if you will.

  2. Is creating games that teach people to commit crime a positive thing for the society we live today?

    Sure, many people are mature enough to take it as only a game and have some fun.

    But there are also others who might get ideas from this and it could foster or push them to view crime is only a game, and act on it (e.g. Columbine).

    You might think the Crime Commission is someone with outdated understanding and “dont’t get” the latest and coolest technology.

    Mate, there is nothing cool if someone got seriously hurt in the process, and when that happens its too late.

    I want to answer two potential comebacks you might have.

    Before I go, I like to counter a potential question you might come back with
    “Its only a game, Hollywood makes way more violent materials and they get away with that, so what?”

    Answer: Yes, Hollywood has alot of violent materials but it does not help to have more violent materials coming from more and more mediums like games, your mobile phones which means more accessible and influential.

    That’s like saying, if cable TV shows p0rn films, why can’t we have p0rn (let’s say the cost is covered by ads) on the standard free to air TV, and in prime time along with news? – use common sense.

    Or another one, which is also frequent –
    “game don’t make people commit crime, people cmmit crime” (just like how they describe guns)

    Yes, there are people who will cimmit crime regardless if violent games exist or not. No point arguing that one. But, the prevelance of violent games that rewards people commiting crimes increases that number – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game_controversy

    Teaching and rewarding crime is not good

    I mean … it’s not rocket science, is it?

    • I think after some 30-odd years of video game history, we can comprehensively debunk the notion that playing violent computer games leads directly to violent behaviour. I’ve played stacks of computer games, and yet I am a very mild-mannered person who hasn’t been in a physical fight for 20 years.

      Video games do not “teach” crime, any more than the novels of Raymond Chandler teach people to be criminals. This is a ridiculous notion which doesn’t gel with our current evidence and understanding of society.

    • @Name
      you have made quite a few wrong assumptions;
      – Columbine was not a result of playing violent games
      – Violent people are attracted to violent games. Violent games do not make people violent.
      – Cloud computing and iPhones have been around for years. Cloud computing for more than a decade
      – The game used as an example does not have the user interacting with crime or performing crimes, except through a small line of text. Most users don’t even read it, the game is simply a resource management game with a mafia skin.

  3. The consultant for the game is the question, who has the experience in crime to advise a game developer on what it is like to provide a good Mafia feel ???
    Unfortunately, it is just a cut down classic RPG formula we gamers are very familiar with. It is interesting that Lawler picked an iPhone app rather than GTA for his remark though.

  4. @name:

    You said:

    1. “But there are also others who might get ideas from this and it could foster or push them to view crime is only a game, and act on it (e.g. Columbine).”

    If you want to go down that route lets look at how many players have played how many hours of violent games and have NOT committed a crime. Lets compare that with how many played games for how long and what crimes were committed. Thats a more balanced review.

    It is very selective to only look at one side of the matter, its borderline agenda driven.
    For the record: I dont play any games, its not my gig.

    2. “That’s like saying, if cable TV shows p0rn films, why can’t we have p0rn (let’s say the cost is covered by ads) on the standard free to air TV, and in prime time along with news? – use common sense.”

    Whats wrong with porn? its maybe not in your taste to watch normal human interaction but again in the same token as my comment above: how many hours seen by how many without it causing any issues?
    Hard to tell.

    What is a fact though is that the entertainment industry have no problem exhibiting violence left and right but a bit of sex is a big no no.

    Having said this Im not 100% for porn. It needs to be used with caution like everything else in life. But I think its far stretched to categorically state that porn is bad.

    3. “But, the prevelance of violent games that rewards people commiting crimes increases that number – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game_controversy
    Teaching and rewarding crime is not good
    I mean … it’s not rocket science, is it?”

    fair comment however I thought its a common fact that there was never found any links between violent games and increase in violence.


  5. iMob is hardly a handbook for budding master criminals. Its most insidious effect is probably to make people think that it’s ok to spam your friends with pointless nag messages.

  6. “Name”

    I think in this day and age, and in the past, and definately the future, the real problem are people like yourself.

    Trying to make connections to personal pastimes/activities and undesirable human behavior just seems to me like your own personal inability to comprehend something you do not enjoy/engage in.

    You can not change a person, a game will not change a person. We are who we are, grow up and accept this fact or go back under your rock.

    Meddlers such as yourself are a curse to this race and I am always amazed at the lengths you lot go to in some lame attempt to make us all the same as yourself.

    I play video games. I listen to death metal. I don’t drink. I smoke pot. I own an I.T business. I’ve never been in a fight. And I certainly don’t potter about telling people how they should live just because I’m too primitive to understand something.

    I bet all your neighbors let their dogs shit on your lawn.

  7. The problem is Australia’s management culture.
    We have a “grey ceiling” problem where the baby boomers are retiring later and thus clogging up the upper management positions. Although unfamiliar and unqualified, these folks are driving Australia’s IT policies…hence MyKi, Telstra’s “next gen” debarcle and NBN censorship…
    Arrogance plus ignorance is a dangerous combination in IT!
    These wallies just *don’t* get it!

    • I don’t know, I think it depends who you are talking about. Some of the greyhairs are waaaay more on top of their game and the local market than the young guns ;) You can’t generalise by age.

      Having said that, Australia does have a great deal of useless ‘middle management’. They can be any age, but there is no doubt they do a great job of clogging up the public service, much of the banks and other large companies etc.

  8. Renai.

    Good points. I must say however, the thing which struck me most about Lawlers speech (and we had a right old discussion internally on Yammer about this) was his indication there were risks in enterprise with introducing these sorts of devices rather than Blackberrys and other IT department friendly devices.
    Now I don’t know who is audience was, but the article didn’t tell us that he gave any clear examples about what those risks were.
    I’m not disputing they might exist, I just think someone in his position should be able to be specific, especially since as you show he can get quite specific about games the type of which have been freely available on Facebook for aeons.
    Otherwise it just reads as typical IT department exaggeration fed from change resistance which we know many are well known for.
    If Lawler has examples, share them – or maybe he has already raised them with Apple and Android vendors.
    A beat up is still a beat up, even if it is an expert who has the stick.

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