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01 March 2010

Conroy already filtering his own site

Would I sound paranoid if I said Stephen Conroy's website is deliberately concealing users' searches for "ISP Filtering"?

Well the evidence is on the page itself:

//Customise the tag-cloud to display what shows up
if (unique[i] == "ISP Filtering")
{
continue;
}
Basically, this piece of code simply says "if the value in the List you are displaying is 'ISP Filtering' leave it out". It's there in plain code, in the HTML of the page you download from his site. However many searches anyone makes on "ISP Filetering" it will never be displayed in the list of users' searches - therefore giving a false impression of what people are actually searching for.

It claims to give you information on what users are interested in then specifically alters that information for, what can only been assumed to be, Senator Conroy's own purposes.

It is also a very blunt solution that obviously wouldn't catch values such as "Web Filtering" or "ISP Censorship". Not only is it surprising behaviour - it's also an ineffective, amateurish and clumsy solution to a problem (that he shouldn't have been trying to solve in the first place).

The worst thing about this is - if Senator Conroy doesn't understand what the difference between this and properly removing the results (on the server side) is, then he is an embarrassment to his portfolio and doesn't deserve the role... if he does understand the difference and can't be bothered fixing it "properly" (so you and I can't simply see it ourselves) then he simply doesn't think this is an embarrassing thing to do.

I think the former is more likely - but either way - he just doesn't get it.

More details - news.com.au article on the subject.


6 comments:

Charlie said...

OK, at the risk of sounding like I support Sen. Conroy, I think:

a) it's a politician's web page, I'm not surprised that it is edited for embarrassing or difficult topics - it exists entirely to promote the politician

b) the tag cloud isn't titled, it's a list of topics he wants to offer people, I don't see why he must make sure that list reflects the most popular searches - it's his site, he can edit it if he wants to?

c) I doubt he would have any idea how the topic was removed, it was probably done by his webmaster, or some technician, or a staffer. I don't agree that he should understand the difference between HTML and server-side processing in order to be comms minister. It's a pretty low-level detail, the health minister isn't a doctor, the defence minister isn't a solider, why should the comms minister have detailed web development skills? Should he also know how to architect an application, build a server or program a smart phone? His job is policy and high-level administration, it's not technical.

OK, having said all that I should say that I don't support ISP filtering, I'm just unsurprised that a politician doesn't promote topics that are negative to him on his own webpage - nor would I expect him to - he's not running a public search engine or something. I don't have a problem with him having editorial control, however clumsily implemented (by someone else I'm sure)

Anyway, he's in favour of content filtering isn't he? So he's walking the talk! ;-)

Nicholas Gledhill said...

These are actually all good points - Charlie. I have to admit at this point that I'm a little biased towards finding fault with Conroy, over this issue - as I so passionately disagree with him on the policy in general. But...


"it's a politician's web page, I'm not surprised that it is edited for embarrassing or difficult topics - it exists entirely to promote the politician"

I would still argue: his major policy is currently ON "ISP Filtering". People were searching for info on "ISP Filtering" on his own site. If you're embarrassed by the information related to one of your major policy areas, on your own site... if you want to make it hard for people to find more data on a policy that you are in charge of, in a forum where you control the data being delivered - then there's something seriously wrong with your attitude towards your own policy.

If the whole topic of "ISP Filtering" is "embarrassing or difficult" for Conroy... ah... maybe that means something...

Seriously! Does Conroy think he can only maintain support for his policy by limiting people's ability to find information on it?

You'd hope he was so in favour of his own position, that he would believe finding information on it (on his own web site, [articularly) would support it. He should want people to be searching for it - finding information - and discussing the issue.

Is he worried they might actually find information he's published on his own website?

God forbid!

It's not like the search was for "Why ISP Filtering Sucks" or something - it's just "ISP Filtering", plain and simple.


"the tag cloud isn't titled, it's a list of topics he wants to offer people, I don't see why he must make sure that list reflects the most popular searches - it's his site, he can edit it if he wants to?"

I think it's a fair assumption that if you automate something reflecting popularity, that you leave it as accurate and representative as possible. I would take a wild guess that if anyone asked him what those links were he would claim that they represent what people are searching for - and wouldn't say that they were selected manually in any way - but I do take your point, none-the-less.

James: "so we can avoid actually saying it's a list of popular links - and simply let people assume it, because of its appearance and use of convention"

Humphrey: [smiling wryly] "... Yes, Minister"


"I doubt he would have any idea how the topic was removed, it was probably done by his webmaster, or some technician, or a staffer."

Fair enough - point taken. I agree. I still think my earlier points are good enough to warrant some attention, though.

"I'm just unsurprised that a politician doesn't promote topics that are negative to him on his own webpage"

Again, I make the point - he's limiting searching (and linking) on HIS OWN website - with officially controlled government data on it...

Is he seriously trying not to promote the major topic of his current policy push? If he's embarrassed by the subject in general - maybe that's a clear indication he should re-address his position... surely!


"Anyway, he's in favour of content filtering isn't he? So he's walking the talk! ;-)

But he's limiting ALL access to ALL information on his major policy - surely a clear example of the blunt force way in which this kind of policy gets implemented once the concept is accepted as policy.

When he tries to claim that this kind of policy will only ever be used to limit access to dangerous and clearly illegal content - here's one clear counter example, delivered to us on his own site.

Charlie said...

I take a lot of your points too (and I like the Yes Minister reference) but one thing I'd point out is that he's not limiting access to information, just the popularity of that search term. You can type "ISP Filtering" into the search box and get the results just like any other tag cloud link does. What he's actually censoring is that the term is a popular search, presumably because he doesn't want to draw attention to the fact that it is a hot topic? Maybe because its popularity was overshadowing other issues he wanted to focus on, like the NBN rollout.

Governments and politicians are always trying to change the subject, control the agenda, put focus on some issues and downplay others - to me this is a (ham-fisted) attempt to do that. A bit like how Kevin Rudd doesn't want to focus on the ETS at the moment (let alone housing insulation!). I wouldn't call it censoring government information though. Besides which, the search results are all his speeches and media releases anyway, it's not the same thing as censoring information from his actual department.

I take the point that he should have faith enough in his own policies to promote them, but presumably he has his own media/political strategies or tactics that involve downplaying what has become a negative issue for him. To me that's par for the course for any politician. I don't think you can call it limiting all access to all information on that policy - he's only limiting the popularity of a search on his own media releases.

Nicholas Gledhill said...

"he's not limiting access to information"

Removing a link is limiting access. It makes people less likely to find it. I'm not saying he's removing all access - just limiting it - in a fairly broad way (i.e. a link on the home page, as well as most others, taking you to broad search restults)


You can type "ISP Filtering" into the search box and get the results just like any other tag cloud link does.

But you won't be encouraged to. He has reduced the likelihood. He has gone out of his way to.

I still think this is significant, when it's regarding his own policy.


"Maybe because its popularity was overshadowing other issues he wanted to focus on, like the NBN rollout."

...so he is embarrassed by people being interested a topic that his government made an issue. I think this is worth making a point of.


"I wouldn't call it censoring government information"

I didn't either. You're arguing with a point I never made.


"I take the point that he should have faith enough in his own policies to promote them..."

This is a topic which he and Kevin Rudd have pushed. We probably wouldn't be discussing it if they hadn't. It wasn't on the agenda.

If he's now embarrassed that people are interested - I think that's important to point out.

But, of course I think that... I've always hated the policy. So I accept my own biase in seeing it that way.

Let's at least agree that we both hate the policy.


"...but presumably he has his own media/political strategies or tactics that involve downplaying what has become a negative issue for him."

Well let's not let him do it! Let's point out the internal contradiction innate in hiding the issue... and the embarrasing example of how a policy of "filtering" might be used badly (too broadly), in practice.

Don't let him bury it under other topics.

That's his way of getting the law in, without anyone thinking about it long enough to complain.


"I don't think you can call it limiting all access to all information on that policy"

I take "limiting" to include "purposely reducing". Anything that purposely reduces is, in my opinion, limiting.

Let me say then, that he has purposely reduced access to all information (i.e. accross the board) on "ISP Filtering" by implementing this hack on his site.

I say "all" because it's not speicifcally negative information that he's reduced access to. He's purposly reduced access to any information on that topic within his site.

If you close down a road to particular building, I believe you have "limited access" to that whole building... and removing a link to search results limits access to a whole topic.

Charlie said...

Ok I think we're getting into semantics but I would still argue that the access is not being limited - it's easy and intuitive to search for ISP Filtering on the home page, if that's what I'm looking for I'd do that using the search box, usually before looking further down the page for a tag cloud. But ... it is a fine line between promoting something (in a topic list on your home page for example) and limiting access to it by not promoting it.

Are other topics, not present in the tag cloud, 'limited' access? What about the fact that he has not placed 2 or 3 or 4 more links to a topic on the home page, or placed them in larger font and in a more prominent position than where the tag cloud is? Obviously the more links, the more promienent, the easier it is to find something, but does that mean access is limited if those links are less? Where do you draw the line? I guess it depends on your perspective as to what extent reduced usability equals limited access. I'd read your 'limiting all access to all information' as an attempt to actually restrict access when that wasn't the case. Limit/restrict/prevent/make more difficult ...

You could argue that access isn't reduced, it's just as accessible as it always was via normal search and navigation, it's just not being promoted as a hot topic on his home page. To take your road analogy, from my perspective he hasn't closed a road, he's just removed one sign to it.

Why do our arguments always (often?) end up in semantics!? It's still fun though.

Of course I take the point that he's deliberating trying not to draw attention to it. Does he want to prevent or make it difficult for poeple to find it, or just not tell them how popular it is? He may well want people not to find the information but the access is the same as it always was, he's just removed a usability feature that saves users from typing in the search field. But that all depends on your definition of 'limit' and 'access'!

Anway, he's a bugger for trying to filter content and it won't work anyway. And yes we should try to draw attention to the issue.

Thomas said...

Firstly, I ought to make a statement regarding my non-interest in the topic.

1. I'm not in Australia and not affected by the idiocy of Internet "filtering" provisions.
2. My ex-wife is a government spin doctor, and thus I know the aim of the game.

OK, but onto the topic at hand.

Senator Conroy is being politically naive by attempting to hide the popularity of the use of the search term in such an obvious way, but, this needs to be considered, for what it is. A poorly conceived attempt at media management.

In the UK, we have a website of petitions to Number 10 downing street -
number 10 petitions site which is (to a certain degree) moderated.

However, petitions such as Jeremy Clarkson for PM, signed by 49,000 people or the almost million people who signed a fuel protest petition, ought to be reveled in by politicians, if they have the nous to be able to take them positively. Effectively, there are a number of rules on petitions, but even those which have been rejected for validity (unless they contain personally sensitive information which would be libelous are retained and can be searched.

The senators actions shouldn't be seen as some kind of hypocrisy. It's "his site" and he's entitled to alter or amend his website however he so desires to promote his own "version" of the world. The fact that his version is a perversion is not a new thing, anyone who has read political histories knows that it is the only way.

But, the underlying point is it shows a man who lacks conviction, and who is not enough of a political animal to be able to accept the reality that if he believes his point is valid, he ought to be lauding the fact that it is "hot", and acting as if he is engaged.

All up. It's very telling.