The on-going food fight between Google and the Australian Government in the person of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy broke out again this week. As you may recall, in March, Minister Conroy took on Google over its privacy problems with Buzz, which was seen by many as payback for Google's stand against Minister Conroy's plan to censor the Internet, which the US government also is against.
This week, Minister Conroy came out swinging at Google once more, this time over its claimed inadvertent capturing of personal Wi-Fi network information while gathering mapping information. Minister Conroy in an ABCNews Australia interview called Google's actions as "the single greatest breach in the history of privacy."
Furthermore, Minister Conroy claimed that Google collected the information deliberately, and that its actions were "creepy."
This naturally triggered a counter-attack by Google which basically said that Minister Conroy's attack on it is nothing more than a deliberate distraction to keep Australians from looking too closely at the Government's unworkable plan to filter the Internet.
Minister Conroy also came under attack from Australian opposition parties that said that if he felt so strongly that Google deliberately was spying, that he needed to refer them to the police for prosecution. Minister Conroy was challenged to "put his money where his mouth is" in this regard. His spokesperson said in response that the Minister was waiting to see what the Australian Privacy Commissioner'sinvestigation found out first.
Minister Conroy then decided to increase the Internet censorship debate ante this week by reportedly saying that the availability of new, more capable filtering software could allow the government to block up to 50,000 web sites instead of the 10,000 or so on its planned blacklist. That would make it on par with Thailand, where activists claim some 50,000 - 65,000 web sites have been blocked over the past few years that are critical of whichever government is in power at the time.
It should be an interesting winter in Australia to see if a cease fire emerges between Google and Minister Conroy. With elections coming within a year, I tend to doubt it.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.