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ABC logoBy the time I got to doing my third radio spot about the Instagram saga, the issues were clear in my mind and I had a few well-rehearsed sound bites. So my final spot on ABC 666 Canberra was smooth.

I don’t think I need to provide any more background. My conversation with Louise Maher stands for itself, I think. We didn’t speak for as long as we’d originally intended, but they also had to update their listeners on the progress of some bushfires and that does have priority.


This audio is ©2012 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and is an unedited copy of what went to air, though the ABC has not posted it online as far as I know.

At some point in the next few days I’ll post further thoughts about this Instagram incident. Stay tuned.

ABC logoWith ABC Radio National Breakfast out of the way, I settled down to write my Crikey story about the Instagram saga.

By that stage my understanding of the story had evolved.

I was becoming increasingly cranky with so many people, including many who should know better, pushing the “Instagram wants to sell your photos” line. Failing to distinguish between selling a license to use a photo in various ways and selling the ownership of the photo itself was a massive failure. The difference is as clear at that between selling a house and renting it out to a tenant.

There was also a clarification from Instagram, making it clear that they weren’t seeking such ownership, admitting that they really hadn’t figured out precisely what it was they wanted to do with users’ photos, and agreeing that the language was open to misinterpretation.

I incorporated this into my Crikey piece, which was given the headline: Users snap over Instagram, but should have seen it coming.

In hindsight, and had I know this was to be the headline, I wouldn’t have been so blunt in my final paragraph.

The core lesson here is that services like Instagram aren’t free. You pay for them by licensing the operator to use your content and other data in various ways. If you don’t like that, well, pay for your goddam internet hosting yourself.

All I meant by this was that internet hosting is pretty cheap these days, and there’s plenty of low-cost providers to choose from. It’s not as if Instagram is a public service that owes you anything.

In any event, I filed the Crikey story before midday as usual. It seemed to me that Instagram was responding appropriately, and I’d always thought they were at the responsible end of social networking. My thoughts were now moving to the future. Would Instagram be able to prove they were worth their billion-dollar price tag? How would they behave if they didn’t start generating revenue?

But on the way to a lunch in the Sydney CBD, I ended up discussing the issue with a journalist for ABC TV’s 7.30 and a producer with ABC 666 Canberra. It was becoming clear to me that for most people in the media this was a brand new issue. Further media spots were being organised.

The next to be recorded, though not the next to go to air, was with ABC Radio’s national current affairs program PM. What pleases me about this piece, I think, is that the “tape ID” — the bit at the front of a recording where you identify who you are so there’s no confusion later — was included as part of the story. Because I used the word “arsehattery”.


This audio is ©2012 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and is an unedited copy of the original audio posted on their website. There’s a transcript over there too, where they spell arsehattery “ass-hattery”. The journalist was Will Ockenden.

ABC logoWednesday was a strange day for me this week, unexpectedly dominated as it was by the public outcry over photo sharing service Instagram changing its terms of use to make it explicit that people’s photographs could be used for promotional purposes.

This is the first of a series of posts that document the media that I was involved with that day — eventually three radio spots and a story for Crikey, plus discussions with a journalist at ABC TV’s 7.30 for a story that ended up not happening — as well as the evolution of my own thoughts on the topic.

I’d gotten up early that morning to work on a Crikey story about the risks of big data, so I was already in media mode when I saw the tweets starting to flood out.

Instagram was claiming the right to sell your photos, they claimed — which I found most unlikely because they can’t sell what they don’t own, and social networks have long since given up trying to claim ownership over their users’ content. At least the ones that intend lasting more than a week online.

Sure enough, I looked at Instagram’s proposed new terms of use, and they actually made it quite explicit that they were not doing that. As I expected, they were seeking the right to use photographs in connection with promotions of unspecified nature — though they’d stated the fact that you wouldn’t be paid for this rather baldly.

To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.

Moreover, it looked to me like Instagram’s existing terms of use already gave them this right, though the wording was vague.

… you hereby agree that Instagram may place such advertising and promotions on the Instagram Services or on, about, or in conjunction with your Content. The manner, mode and extent of such advertising and promotions are subject to change without specific notice to you.

In retrospect, I think both are worded rather vaguely, with a phrase like “in connection with” being able to cover a multitude of sins. But “without any compensation to you” is clear enough, and that obviously triggered the fears.

But Instagram’s actions weren’t unusual, they weren’t claiming ownership of your photos, and there was no need to panic — and that’s what I tried to stress in this first media spot, a chat with John Doyle on ABC Radio National Breakfast at around 0840 AEDT.


This audio is ©2012 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and is an unedited copy of the original audio posted on their website.

Every now and then I end up doing an explainer that starts at the very beginning — like this radio spot about data mining for ABC Gippsland this morning.

Breakfast presenter Gerard Callinan has posted the audio under the title Mapping key strokes. Who’s watching?

For many of us, the idea of going a day without using the internet either at work or at home is almost unimaginable. Have you ever thought what happens to the information that you leave behind when visiting your favourite websites? Every page you visit, every survey you take, every ad you click on builds up a profile which is used by marketing companies and increasingly, political parties to build up a picture about what sort of things you are interested in and how you might be swayed to buy items or even vote in an election.

Here’s a slightly different version of the audio here, with the volume re-normalised — which just means it’s now supposedly at the optimal volume.

I think Mr Callinan got slightly paranoid after he’d read a certain op-ed I wrote earlier this year.

I’m not so sure how well I explained things. This was a live-to-air piece at 0720 AEDT after I’d had just three and a half hours of sleep and a few hours dealing with, um, a very aggressive intestinal problem. So I wasn’t as focused as I’d like to have been.

If I had my time again, I’d have made sure to explain how the advertising embedded in web pages, or the Facebook “Like” buttons, allow those organisations to track you across multiple sites. And I’d have made sure to have a link I could give out for some concise “How to protect your privacy online” guides.


The audio is of course ©2012 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, but as usual I’m posting it here as an archive.

“ASIO don’t seem to realise how privileged they are compared to intel orgs in other Western democracies,” tweeted terrorism researcher Andrew Zammit (pictured) yesterday.

Zammit is a researcher at the Global Terrorism Research Centre (Monash University) and Australian Policy Online (Swinburne University), and he was responding to my blog post from yesterday, “Insulted, ASIO? That’s not really the problem, surely?” and the attached podcast.

Here are his subsequent tweets, turned into continuous prose:

CIA for example has ongoing congressional oversight (of actual operations) as opposed to our occasional parl[iamentary] inquiries, people can FOI CIA docs only a few years old (ASIO has 20-30 year exemption) and some of the CIA’s analytical roles are transparent, as in analysts will have CIA business cards whereas even an ASIO kitchen hand’s identity will be kept secret. And CIA isn’t even a domestically-focused agency. So yes, ASIO needs to be less precious about being asked questions.

I agree. From the perspective of the United States I’m a foreign national, yet I’ve spoken with officers from the FBI, NSA and the Secret Service — all of whom had business cards with their full names. The closest I’ve gotten in Australia is chatting briefly with a DSD chap, one of two attending in January this year — given names only, and I suspect that those given names were really in scare quotes.

The excuse always given is “operational security”, but I do think the world has changed. The tools and methods are surely not so different from SEKRIT agencies to private-sector security companies and even analysis in non-security realms, given that so much technology is now available off the shelf to all comers.

Surely these days OPSEC is more about protecting sources and the specific operations that are or are not being conducted?

Of course I really don’t know this stuff. I’ve never worked in this field. I’ve never even held a security clearance. I’m just an interested bystander mouthing off. But I am intrigued.

My regular spot on Phil Dobbie’s Balls Radio this week was a conversation (yes, another one) about the Australian government’s data retention proposals.

Here’s the audio of my segment. As you’ll hear, it’s much the same argument as in my last post about the Patch Monday podcast, with random asides about the meaning of misogyny and what should be done with real estate agents.

Yes, there’s a few audio dropouts. Welcome to the joys of using Skype over Telstra Next G mobile broadband while 1.5 kilometres into the eucalypt scrubland.


If you’d like more Balls Radio, have a listen to the full episode. You can subscribe over at the website.

There aren’t many places in the world where you can openly accuse the nation’s top police and intelligence agencies of having an attitude problem, as I did on Monday, without being visited by the men in the van with the canvas sack. Which is a good thing.

In this week’s Patch Monday podcast, embedded immediately below for your convenience and CBS Interactive’s traffic logging, I departed from the usual format to present a personal opinion.

Data retention for law enforcement is one of the most important political issues relating to our use of the internet now and as far into the future as we care to imagine, I said, and it’s being mishandled.

The Australian government’s current one-page working definition (PDF) of what constitutes communications metadata (which can be requested by law enforcement agencies without a warrant) as opposed to communications content (which generally does require a warrant) is, to anyone with a technical understanding of how the internet actually works and is evolving, virtual gibberish.

“Dangerously immature” is how I described it.

I also raised three points where I think the version of reality being promoted by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is wrong.

  • This is a push for more power. We conduct so much more of our lives online than we ever did on the phone, and that means the balance of power is changing. We need to have a conversation about this.
  • The AFP says quite specifically that they’re not after our web browsing activity, but I don’t see how the working document supports that argument. And other agencies, including the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), are after that stuff.
  • ASIO and the AFP constantly talk about the powers being needed to catch the terrorists and pedophiles. But the law will probably be modelled on the current law for the phone, which provides access to communication metadata to many other agencies with far less stringent accountability rules for many other, far less serious, crimes.

Please have a listen and tell me what you think.


The podcast stands on its own, but I want to emphasise the thing that still disturbs me…

Read the rest of this entry »

My appearance at the Sydney Opera House Festival of Dangerous Ideas, which I’ve told you about before why aren’t you paying attention? — draws ever closer. It’s a week from today, and as part of the promotional lead-up they’ve posted a look Inside my Dangerous Mind.

It’s in question-and-answer format.

Q: What is a dangerous idea?

A: One where merely expressing it puts the speaker in mortal danger, or in danger of expulsion from society. Examples? Mate, your daughter would look fantastic being sodomised by a goat. Behead all those who insult the Prophet. Pouring the tea before the milk.

Well, I reckon you should read the whole thing.

See you next week? It’s Saturday 29 September at 1pm in The Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House. You can book online.

The current parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s national security laws has become a mildly hot media topic this week, so I ended up doing a backgrounder on ABC Local Radio last night with Dom Knight.

I should probably write more about this some time. And I will. But for now, here’s that 18-minute conversation. Including our digression into talking about that fine TV drama The Wire.


The audio is of course ©2012 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, archived here because it isn’t being archived anywhere else.

Since I’m blogging about my forthcoming speaking engagements, I should probably also mention that I’m on a panel at ACCAN’s National Conference on 5 to 6 September.

ACCAN is the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, and the panel I’m on is called “Privacy & Security”.

Privacy dilemmas are getting bigger every year as more of our lives and essential information are moving online. This discussion will explore online privacy and security policies. A top tech journalist [that's me!] will examine whether there is such a thing as privacy in the online world, and a broadband services expert will explain the key privacy and security challenges likely faced in providing medical and other services over broadband.

The other panellists are Nigel Waters from the University of New South Wales’ Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre and Dean Economou from NICTA.

So, privacy and security. That seems to be my gig now…

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