Thursday, November 13, 2008

Taking part in Conroy's censorship trial: wise?

Michal Malone, the head of Iinet - the ISP that I use - has decided to take part in what he calls the "ridiculous" trials of Senator Conroy's Internet censorship program. Malone's stated intention is to demonstrate "how stupid it [the proposed filter system] is" using "hard numbers". I'm sure Mr Malone's intentions are good, but I'm not sure if what he's doing is such a good idea.

See, in most tech-oriented situations like I assume Mr Malone would be familiar with, statistics are viewed as useful mathematical tools, essential to understanding any number of issues. But in politics, statistics aren't tools. They're weapons. They're not used to describe reality, they're spun and cherry-picked and massaged and then quoted to give the veneer of "mathematical" legitimacy to a political claim.

I'm concerned that this trial isn't really about gauging the effectiveness of the filter system. I think it's not about having real-world workings to examine, but statistics to cherry-pick. I recall that Senator Conroy has already shown he's willing to do something like this, saying that there was a "successful" lab test of his filter system previously when the results actually showed that it slowed internet speeds down significantly, and didn't block P2P content in the slightest. If Mr Malone is serious about exposing the filter system as flawed, I hope he understands that to do that, he's going to have to consistently and repeatedly get out in front of any spin that Senator Conroy puts on the results.

On a semi-related note, I see that according to this article, ISPs taking part in the test will be doing the testing by asking for volunteers from their own subscribers to try the system out. I guess it'd probably be too much to hope that absolutely no subscribers bother to volunteer.

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