Google, The Right to be Forgotten, and (monetised) Free Speech


There have been a lot of words written about the European Court of Justice ruling in May this year which forced Google to remove links to content when requested. Here are some I’ve written to expose how the issue is being handled in a simplistic way by most of the media.

The European Courts ruled that according to personal data protections search engines (Google & Bing) are “obliged to remove from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of a person’s name links to web pages” if they are “inadequate, irrelevant or excessive”.

Since the ruling, Google’s response has been swift. They have apparently received requests from 91,000 individuals covering  328,000 URLs and have been active with some nifty op-ed pieces in the European press with David Drummond, chief legal officer arguing that it is a complex issue which handled poorly could result in the restriction of free expression and somewhat alarmingly the abrogation of Article 19 of the UN Charter of Human Rights.

Drummond helpfully quotes it in his article:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The response from the media has been equally swift.

Business Insider reckon that because links to articles about a former CEO of Merrill Lynch were removed the ruling equates to “censoring the internet, giving new tools that help the rich and powerful (and ordinary folk) hide negative information about them, and letting criminals make their histories disappear.”

TechCrunch saw the problem as an example of the gulf between technology and law, with Natasha Lomas writing an intelligent article which pointed to Google’s market dominance and the importance of a nuanced comprehension of Google’s position as mass data-indexer and the gateway for the Internet for much of Europe.

Pando have been skeptical about Google’s complaints about censorship and the limitation of free expression with Nathaniel Mott writing that “Google has been using the press to control the debate around the right to be forgotten ruling since it was first announced.”

Danny Sullivan in Search Engine Land didn’t mince his words “You know what other place imposes censorship restrictions on search engines without clear guidelines? China.” and “Google has readily seized upon the role of censor, something that in other countries it has rejected with reluctance.”

Other commentators have argued that the ruling and Google’s apparent acqueiscence could be harmful to democracy if embarrassing articles about politicians are removed from easy discovery. In Australia, Institute of Public Affairs member, Simon Breheny equates the decision with censorship and warns that “It’s the ultimate in state outsourcing. Rather than judges and courts adjudicating what material gets taken down and what material stays up, it forces a private company to do the work of a proxy censor.”

And lastly, Jimmy Wales, the admired founder of Wikipedia weighed in early to the debate saying that a “deep injustice and terrible danger in European law” needed to be set right to protect free speech.

Equating asking Google to remove links from their index to censorship is a very scary prospect. Not because it’s true, but because it demonstrates the incredible power Google, a billion dollar business, have over how we discover and consume information. In technical terms it clearly isn’t censorship. Google index the Internet and using algorithms present that information back to users searching for someone or something. They link to other stuff individuals and businesses have published on the Internet.

On the face of it, removing an entry from the index isn’t censorship because the original content has not been removed and is presumably still discoverable by some other (less easy) means – twitter or Facebook? But Google is not just a humble search engine. Google are an advertising behemoth that makes billions of dollars from displaying relevant ads next to the content they have cleverly indexed and presented. Google is a gateway website for up to 90% of Internet users in Europe (and Australia) and the removal of information means that it most likely won’t be discovered. This makes Google a publisher with arguably more power than most traditional publishers which are busy trying to save their arses from being further disrupted. That’s what’s scary. Google are scary.

So does the ruling mean we’re on the cusp of a dark period of censorship with free speech provisions being limited by spurious privacy protections? No, it doesn’t. The Internet is by it’s nature distributed and even if information is removed from a search engine it remains discoverable by other, admittedly less-easy means. Privacy matters and the European courts have taken a bold albiet flawed step in protecting the ights of individuals against massive corporate entities intent on hoovering up all manner of personal information to monetise with little regard for the consequences. What the defenders of Google’s right of “free expression” forget is that Google is a business, not a warrior for free-speech, the truth, and the all-American way.

The real question is: Is my speech still free if search engines like Google monitor, measure, and monetise everything I say?

Ultimately I believe the European laws will be changed to better reflect current technologies and there will be a better balance between the rights of individuals, the discoverability of information, and unacceptable corporate surviellance. This issue is far too important to be reduced to fantasies about free expression, censorship, and power.

Moving on


After 12 years in many different roles, I have moved on from Melbourne IT. When I started as a contractor in the development team, the company had had two massive rounds of redundancies and was busy transitioning from being the monopoly registrar of domain names in Australia, to registrar of domains in a competitive market. Now the business is in another transition, having purchased Australian competitor NetRegistry, and seeing in the introduction of 800 new domain spaces like .company, .technology, and .wtf

The moment when it sunk in that I had really left was when, whilst sitting on a tram, I deleted the Exchange account on my dated company issue iPhone. As I watched the emails, tasks, and calendar bookings disappear I felt a true sense of separation from my former job. Whilst in the past a job was defined by a business card and an office, nowadays a job is defined by an email account, and a virtual task-list. Employment status is now defined by the cloud, by Internet technologies.  Rather than simply provide a desk and a phone, employers provide a set of tools to engage with the world, their peers, and themselves.

The moment when the emails disappeared was when I realised I didn’t have to worry about the things left unfinished, or the things that had been finished, or the things I didn’t know about. Deleting the email account was a license to detach from the past and embrace the next phase of my career. There’s a lot to be said for switching off to really get shit done. Sometimes being connected looks very like being anxious and obsessive, rather than on-to-it and efficient. To really connect sometimes you need to disconnect the wifi, turn the device off and take a good look at what’s around you.

I’m looking forward to getting a few personal projects done and working on the next phase of my career, and getting really (dis)connected to what’s around me.

Review: Kit Universal Bluetooth Keyboard Case


When I walked into the office with my sleek iPad Air tucked away in my new Kit Universal Bluetooth Keyboard Case, a coworker looked at it and said, “What the fuck is that?” After explaining to him that with a good keyboard I could ditch the laptop altogether and lighten the load of carrying my 4.5kg corporate issue Dell, he seemed to accept it, just.

Steve Jobs famously “had this idea of being able to get rid of the keyboard, type on a multi-touch glass display” before the iPad or iPhone and I’m positive he would be more horrified with the idea of a physical keyboard attached to an iPad than the grumpy coworker.

What’s unique about the keyboard cover is that it will fit any 9 – 10 inch tablet whether it’s an iPad, Samsung Galaxy, or Android device. It comes with four elasticised metallic clips that make it easy to clip a tablet in or out.

The Kit Universal Bluetooth Keyboard Case battery lasts for an impressive 90 hours, has a standby of up to 80 days, and will charge in three hours. The Bluetooth version supported in version 3.0 with up to a range of 10 metres, although the use cases for needing to use a keyboard 10 metres away from their tablet can’t be that common.

It comes with a nifty stand which makes it easy to use on a desk, cafe table, or in bed, and a case best described as pleather, although I think the official term is PU Leather.

The keyboard has 84 keys including function and media keys. On the iPad Air all the common media keys worked, although the Windows specific keys and most of the function keys didn’t do anything and for Apple Tablets are a waste of space. An impressive feature is the magnetised keyboard which is easily removed and added back. I found the keyboard pretty easy to use with few errors, and a touch faster than the digital iPad keyboard.

What’s disappointing about the Kit Universal Bluetooth Keyboard Case is the size and weight. It gets back to my coworkers comment and Steve Jobs’ desire to make something beautiful. As a tool, it works fine and does the job, but it fails in the slick design stakes. Overall though, this is a good entry level external keyboard for tablets. There are better looking options with smaller form factors and slick designs, but this does the job at an affordable price and suits multiple tablets.

The KIT Universal Bluetooth Keyboard Case is available at Mobile Zap.

The Quantified Self demonstrates just how tech culture is getting it wrong


Two things happened recently that made me pay attention to wearable tech and the idea of the quantified self, and how both highlights how tech culture is getting it wrong.

The first was over lunch when I saw a senior manager plug her Fitbit into her iPhone and sync up her data. I cheekily asked her what it did for for, and she told me it told her how many steps she had taken and show she had slept. I responded that I always knew how well I had slept by the way I felt when I woke up. She didn’t disagree, but the Fitbit was a habit, and she was committed. Continue reading

How Dr Zeus’ Horton Hears a Who Can Inspire Hope that Australia’s Evil Asylum Seeker Laws Can Be Beaten


I was reading Dr Zeus’ Horton Hears a Who to the kids the other night, and I got to the bit where the well-meaning compassionate Horton meets a nasty Kangaroo who laughs at Horton’s desire to look after a “speck of dust that is able to yell”. The speck is of course a tiny planet inhabited by a race of tiny humanoid creatures called Whos, and Horton is their hero.

The Kangaroo rather cruelly tells Horton, “I think you’re a fool” and quite frankly behaves like an asshole stealing the  speck of dust and ignoring Horton’s meek request
Please don’t harm all my little folks, who
Have as much right to live as us bigger folks do!

Continue reading

Spiked, Voltaire, Brandis, Free Speech, and House of Cards


Over the Easter break, I’ve been inhaling the excellent Netflix series House of Cards, watching the Machiavellian maneuverings of the brilliant and positively frightening Frank Underwood as he journeys from Congress to The White House. It was somewhere near the end of the first series whilst watching ABC’s Q and A that I saw Brendan O’Neill, the editor of Spiked Online and author of a glowing apologia of Attorney General George Brandis, announce himself as a Marxist Libertarian.

I have to say, the proclamation was so obnoxious, as was the name-dropping of John Stuart Mill and Voltaire as justification for George Brandis’ intellectual position on bigotry, that I was suddenly interested, particularly as I am known for name-dropping philosophers to make myself more appealing to the opposite sex and appear smarter.

Spiked Online is a British journal dedicated to the promotion of free speech. Their manifesto (yes, a manifesto) offers that:

Freedom of speech is the best guarantor of getting to the truth of a matter. Where censorship discourages debate in favour of silencing the allegedly offensive or hateful opinion, freedom of speech insists on holding people to account for their beliefs and challenging their claims in the public sphere. It is the midwife of enlightenment where censorship fuels only an unquestioning approach, and ultimately ignorance.

Brendan O’Neill is a firm believer in the Enlightenment project where science united with critical reason can help humanity, or Man at the very least, march towards an impossible progress. In his interview with Brandis he finds a willing partner in love of enlightenment philosophers and free speech.

In an era when European politicians are forever battling it out to see who can outlaw the most forms of ‘hate speech’, when Canada hauls so-called hate speakers before its Human Rights Commission to justify themselves, when students in America and Britain ban, burn or no-platform anything they decree to be hateful – whether it’s Zionist politicians or the pop super-hit ‘Blurred Lines’ – Brandis’s single-minded campaign to rein in Australia’s hate-speech laws is quite something. In fact it feels positively weird to hear a mainstream politician, someone whose face you see in the papers and on TV all the time here, talk about the ‘limits of the state to interfere with the utterance of ideas, beliefs and opinions’, and even to say, as Brandis does to me, that ‘people have the right to be bigots, you know’. Try to imagine a British politician campaigning for, effectively, the freedom to hate; it just wouldn’t happen.

To the true-believers in the Enlightenment story, environmentalism and climate change is tantamount to wanting going back to the days when the church dominated society and people were forced to grow their own food. The idea that science and industry may have contributed to global warming and that a new way of thinking which compels industry to think differently, to behave in a way that sees nature more as a partner rather than a willing supplicant for progress is for O’Neill and Brandis positively medieval, and anti-intellectual. That O’Neill reduces scientists concerned about global warming to being the equivalent of the Catholic Church, or even worse, the flat earth theorists that Voltaire railed against. What’s absurd is that the church of industry is being challenged by science, and the true anti-intellectualism is coming from the free-speech transcendentalists that would see wealth further distributed from the poor to the rich, and resources spent for the benefit of the few rather than the many.

O’Neil opines:

The great irony to this new ‘habit of mind’, he says, is that the eco-correct think of themselves as enlightened and their critics as ‘throwbacks’, when actually ‘they themselves are the throwbacks, because they adopt this almost theological view, this cosmology that eliminates from consideration the possibility of an alternative opinion’. The moral straitjacketing of anyone who raises a critical peep about eco-orthodoxies is part of a growing ‘new secular public morality’, he says, ‘which seeks to impose its views on others, even at the cost of political censorship’.

Note, the language – cosmology, orthodoxy, morality. Brandis and O’Neil are stuck in a present dominated by a historical lament for an impossible future. They and their masters are seeking to confuse and blackmail by equating critical thought with being for and against something as simple as free-speech, industry and GDP growth, or even bigotry. Free speech is clever means of throwing an archaic veil over the critical issues of our times by making a media made dumb by the Internet, focus on the non-existent risks to freedom while living standards slowly degrade.

I haven’t the space here to cover, the absurdity of Marxism, Andrew Bolt, or that Voltaire and John Stuart Mill were thinkers responding to the great challenges of their time with exciting, innovative, and controversial ideas. Brandis and O’Neill seek to inspire debate but I get the sense that like Congressman Frank Underwood they believe, “The road to power is paved with hypocrisy. And casualties. Never regret.”


Franz Kafka’s In The Penal Colony, Manus Island, and Australia’s second wave of racism and xenophobia


“The matter stands like this. Here in the penal colony I have been appointed judge. In spite of my youth. For I stood at the side of our Old Commandant in all matters of punishment, and I also know the most about the apparatus. The basic principle I use for my decisions is this: Guilt is always beyond a doubt. Other courts could not follow this principle, for they are made up of many heads and, in addition, have even higher courts above them. But that is not the case here, or at least it was not that way with the previous Commandant. It’s true the New Commandant has already shown a desire to get mixed up in my court, but I’ve succeeded so far in fending him off. And I’ll continue to be successful.”
The Officer, in Franz Kafka’s, In The Penal Colony

The Officer in Kafka’s In The Penal Colony is a man nostalgic for an era where justice was literally written on the body in a 12 hour torture session where the accused is strapped into an ingenious apparatus which dispenses justice in an elegant, efficient, and ultimately barbaric process. In Kafka’s brilliant novel, written on the cusp of the First World War, the Officer finds himself alone in his commitment to a former Commandant and faced with having to question ‘justice’ subjects himself to the apparatus only to have it break apart and stab in a “murder, pure and simple” rather than inscribe “be just” in a beautiful script on his body.

I was reminded of In The Penal Colony when I heard about the violence and attacks at the Manus Island Detention Centre in PNG, particularly when I read the transcripts of messages left by asylum seekers on the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre phone.

“We are not here by our choice. Australia government put us here by force and today this is happening. Who is responsible for our lives? We are dying here, maybe if we stay like this we are not even fighting them. We are just running away and trying to hide ourselves in the room. But they are following us every place and beating us, anyone they hate.”

The incidents left one Iranian man dead, scores of people with head injuries, and traumatised asylum seekers who spent at least one evening hiding from what appears to be machete wielding vigilantes. The protests originally began after the asylum seekers were told they would never be settled in Australia or PNG if they were not found to be refugees. There are over 1,300 asylum seekers waiting to have their status assessed by Australian officials, in what is essentially a penal colony. I can’t help thinking that just as Kafka’s apparatus takes a very long and painful 12 hours to dispense justice, the time delay for refugee assessment is part of the punishment apparatus for seeking asylum in Australia.

The Minister of Immigration, Scott Morrison, is continuing a long line of oppression and domination of the have-nots-who-look-kinda-different by the haves-who-are-kinda-white. After all, racism is engrained in our consciousness and proudly inherited from the British. If traditional media is anything to go by, the prevailing view in the suburbs seems to be that of racist radio commentator Alan Jones, who before the Cronulla riots asked, “What did we do as a nation to have this vermin infest our shores?”

The crowning glory of Australian xenophobia until now has been the White Australia Policy, or as it’s officially known The Immigration Restriction Act of 1901. This act, enshrined in law the restriction of migration to those who would preserve the British character of Australia. In fact this policy was one of the key reasons for the 6 colonies agreeing to become a nation. That and rail. Inspiring stuff.

It wasn’t just the fear that anyone different would corrupt our youth, rate our women, smoke opium, or worship funny god(s) that made the non-British a threat, it was the suspicion that they could take our jobs. The jobs for Australians has always been at the heart of Australian xenophobia; Prime Minister Alfred Deakin put it well:

“It is not the bad qualities, but the good qualities of these alien races that make them so dangerous to us. It is their inexhaustible energy, their power of applying themselves to new tasks, their endurance and low standard of living that make them such competitors.”

The White Australia policy would not be fully dismantled until the late 1970′s when provisions to restrict migration on the basis of country of origin were finally removed by the Fraser Government. It’s ironic that Fraser’s treasurer, John Winston Howard, is the man who as Prime Minister was responsible for the second wave of enshrining racism and xenophobia in law. In case you’ve forgotten, Howard’s views on immigration are best captured in his often quoted election winning line, “we will decide who comes to this country, and the circumstances in which they come”.

After uttering that inspiring quote Howard won the 2001 election in a landslide.

That there is a detention centre being run in our name where desperate people are hiding in rooms from police with guns and vigilantes with machetes shames us all. This is happening on our watch. Ultimately we are responsible for electing governments from both sides of politics who have ramped up the racism and xenophobia and cruelty while being cheered on by fucktard talk show hosts and dickhead journalists.

In Kafka’s tale, we discover that the Commandant responsible for the cruel apparatus was buried in the corner of an old tea house having been denied a place in the graveyard. His grave is marked only by a stone beneath a table where “poor, oppressed” men drink. The Commandment and his practices are now viewed with shame and derision.

We can only hope that the second wave of Australian racism and xenophobia, of detention centres, of riots, and of children locked behind bars meets the same ridiculous end. It will take all our efforts.

Reflections on getting old, addiction, and the martyrdom of Phillip Seymour Hoffman


For my first twenty eight years I celebrated my birthday, today in fact, with my sister. The sharing of a birthday makes it less a narcissistic celebration of self and more a celebration of self hood, the acknowledgment of a shared primordial experience of birth, blood, tears, and laughter. 

Sadly, my sister died of a drug overdose when she was twenty eight, just a little over a month after our birthday. Most birthdays I make sure I raise a glass to her and reflect on what she, her friends, family, and I have missed due to her early departure. It isn’t morose or depressing, more a thanks for having known her and an acknowledgment of how she is missed. 

With the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman earlier this week there has been a lot of chatter about the pain of addiction and the nobility of recovery. He tried but failed, the press about his death is an tragedy to other struggling addicts, the press about his death is an inspiration to other struggling addicts, or perhaps he was doomed anyway, the victim of being a sensitive man in an insensitive brutish society. The discourse of addiction is one of regret, failure and transcendence and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, being a great actor but a flawed human, fits very nicely into the ideal of a martyr, killed by the pain of being alive in a post-capitalist world defined by success, failure, and nice things. 

Hoffman’s death serves as a reminder for us sensitive souls that life can be hard and we need to take care of ourselves and the ones that we love. And also as a tragic spectacle, a car crash of human proportions.

When a public figure dies early of a drug problem, sexual neurosis, or by their own hand, we’re allowed to reflect and seek comfort that even they, the greats, feel the pain that sometimes bites us as we wake in the morning or shut our eyes to go to sleep. It justifies any addiction to alcohol, chocolate, mastubation, shopping, twitter, Facebook, nipple tweaking, reading, writing, prescription drugs, work, spreadsheets, or cycling. It says, life is painful, look at them, you’re ok, you’re lucky.

And that is the overwhelming feeling I have each birthday now. I’m grateful that unlike my sister, I get to celebrate my birthday every year, and in doing so remember her, her life, and the missed birthdays.

Love all those around you, and live every moment.

Tony Abbott and Vladimir Putin share the same authoritarian views on media freedom and we need to be very scared


According to Russian president Vladimir Putin, all state run media should be run by patriots. No real surprise here, because Putin is widely known as an authoritarian leader intolerant of dissent (and homosexuals).

Unfortunately things are no different in Australia. Like the Putin administration, the Abbott government is firmly behind the idea of spreading propaganda in the most efficient way possible, and that is of course through our very own state owned media, the ABC.

Continue reading

SuperTooth buddy Review


Buying a hands free Bluetooth car speakerphone like the SuperTooth buddy is making a big statement that you can’t afford a fancy new car that comes with hands-free, voice activation, and a heads-up display, but despite this, are firmly committed to not having an accident while discussing the weather or whispering sweet nothings to your lover while hurtling down the highway at 100 km per hour.

As a hands-free speakerphone the SuperTooth buddy is a ripper.

Installation is easy, it comes with a micro USB cable, a DC car charger, and a neat magnetised clip that makes attaching to your windscreen visor easy. The small magnet is surprisingly strong and makes attaching and detaching the SuperTooth buddy from the clip very easy.

Charging the battery to full charge takes three hours, but once charged it has a standby of 1,000 hours and talk time of 20 hours. I highly recommend charging from your computer every week or so depending on how much you talk on the phone and how long you drive. Running out of juice halfway through a conversation is annoying and dangerous.

The size of the Supertooth buddy is impressive, it’s only a little bigger than an iPhone, and it looks kind of cool with curved edges and nice fat buttons which are widely spaced to prevent hanging up when you want to answer a call. Buttons include redial and voice-dialing as well as standard volume buttons. Strangely, there are no buttons to manage calls or switch between phones which would be a useful addition.

The SuperTooth buddy supports USB2.1 and can pair with up to 8 devices and support 2 devices simultaneously. It also remembers the last 8 pairs and will automatically connect when within the 10 metre range. To pair you press the on/off button until the LED light flashes and then pair with your phone. It’s pretty fool-proof.

The most impressive feature of the SuperTooth buddy is the sound quality. It has a great microphone and full duplex audio with echo cancelling and DSP which will filter out road noise from other cars and cope pretty well with the noise from an open window.

If you’re looking for a nifty little hands free speakerphone to help you be safe on the road while nattering to your partner, boss, or best mate, the SuperTooth buddy is great value. Click here for more information about how to buy it and in the meantime stay safe on the road!


  • Bluetooth hands-free kit version 2.1
  • Quick fixation on sun visor via metal clip
  • Headset and hands-free profiles
  • Multipoint : 2 phones can be paired simultaneously
  • Full Duplex
  • DSP
  • Operating range : 10 meters
  • Frequency : 2.4 GHz
  • Rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery
  • Voice recognition dialling (if phone supports)
  • Last call redial
  • Reject incoming call