blog Those of you with a passing interest in all things Stephen Conroy may recall the good Senator’s fervent attempts to protect Australia’s fragile young people and appease the demands of conservative lobby groups through the late 2010 launch of a big red cybersafety button application which allows the vulnerable to simply click for online safety information and assistance at any time. The move generated derision from the technical community at the time and isn’t regarded as a hugely effective move by the Communications Minister, although no doubt his department would be able to provide statistics showing that it’s been downloaded an acceptably large number of times.
But what you may not know is that some of the more high-profile members of Australia’s Internet community are currently waging something of a war against the button through filing Freedom of Information requests about it, presumably to demonstrate the Government’s ineptitude in implementing the project.
For instance, in late November last year, online rights activist Geordie Guy filed a FoI request with Conroy’s department seeking to ascertain the terms under which the button was to be distributed as an app through Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. The result? Guy sourced documents showing that Apple rejected Conroy’s button from being included as an iOS app, essentially because it’s just a glorified website link.
“On November 29 I used Right To Know, a new Australian website that streamlines FOI requests, to try and figure out why the Department of Broadband, Communication and the Digital Economy’s “Cybersafety Help Button” wasn’t available for the iTunes App Store. Having reviewed the reasons an app might be rejected, the only one I thought could apply was that it was insufficiently innovative or didn’t do anything new and exciting (paraphrasing), and for a $100,000 software development project that sounded rough.
Turns out I was right. DBCDE released documents a few hours ago, and they detail the trouble the department had getting various platforms to adopt the application. Troubles and glitches vary, but Apple rejected the app because it was just a link to a website. A $100,000 link.”
if that wasn’t bad enough, noted Conroy critic Mark Newton has now joined the fray, filing a new FoI request with Conroy’s department seeking the actual source code of the button.
“Dear Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy,” Newton wrote in an email to Conroy’s department today, “documents released under FOI in late 2012 indicate that DBCDE contracted out development of “Cybersafety Help Button” applications for various platforms to third party software developers. I request disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act of source code delivered to the Commonwealth pursuant to relevant software development agreements.”
Although it does seem as though this is quite a frivolous use of the Freedom of Information process, I can’t help but be amused by what’s going on here. Conroy’s department essentially launched the cybersafety button as a sop to show that it was doing something about cybersafety … despite the fact that as a policy it was obviously completely ineffective. Just like the botched mandatory Internet filter project. And now several of the same activists who helped lay the filter to bed are now essentially mocking Conroy’s big red button through the FoI process. There’s a message here that politicians should pay attention to. Don’t take on the Internet. You’re never going to win. And your mistakes will hang around for years.
Image credit: DBCDE