Google has opposed a new law which would allow Australian Federal Police to get warrants for access to online communications from terrorists and paedophiles. Picture: Bryan R. Smith/AFP
Google has opposed a new law which would allow Australian Federal Police to get warrants for access to online communications from terrorists and paedophiles. Picture: Bryan R. Smith/AFP

Tech giants should spare us their crocodile tears

Hypocrisy, thy name is Amazon. And Facebook. And Google.

These online giants operate under one business model: gather as much information as possible about individual users using sophisticated algorithms and on-sell that information to advertisers. In other words, online users - you and me - are the cash cows these mega-corporations milk every day.

So it's hard to stomach it when Amazon, Facebook and Google oppose the introduction of a new law to allow the Federal Police to obtain 'warrants' to appropriate the online communications of suspected paedophiles and terrorists because it would make users 'less safe online'.

Prepared by their industry group, Amazon, Facebook and Google's submission to the committee reviewing the Bill states, "we … remain concerned at the lack of independent oversight of Notices and the absence of checks and balances with this legislation …"

Pardon? You mean like the checks and balances which don't exist on how much data Amazon, Facebook and Google can collect on individuals and how this information is used?

Their submission goes on to claim that the Bill 'proposes extraordinary powers that are unprecedented' and that a more workable legislation is required to 'protect the safety of Australians online'.

Perhaps the Bill does have flaws, which is why the work of the committee reviewing it is so important. But it is the height of hypocrisy for these online giants, who have 'unprecedented and extraordinary' access to the private information of millions of Australians, to whine about the government's potential invasion of our privacy.

Take Amazon's Alexa unit. Unlike many electronic devices, this unit does not switch itself off when left unused for a period of time. It's always 'on' and always listening.

More importantly, each unit has one account and the device does not differentiate between adults and children. These devices record and store almost every piece of information spoken aloud while the machine is switched on and deliver advertising based on an aggregated profile of the account associated with your home, not specific to any particular user. This should raise red flags with every parent.

Facebook also has a hide opposing the proposed laws based on issues of 'information security'. As at the third quarter of 2018, Facebook had more than 2.2 billion followers. In 2017 advertising made up 97 per cent of Facebook's $40 billion revenue - that is video advertisements, mobile advertisements, page likes, page boosts, and more from individuals and companies. Facebook attracts this mass advertising by offering up our personal information with no checks or balances on what algorithms are used, what depth of information is taken nor how and where the information is used.

In fact, the likely reason the social tech giants are opposed to the government's proposed legislation, is because they're opposed to any government, anywhere in the world imposing conditions of any kind on their operations.

Regardless of the merits of the Bill, the opposition expressed by Amazon, Facebook and others is about as authentic as Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos crying poor.

Sorin Toma is director, Australian Cyber Security Forum.

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