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Friday, 06 April 2018 11:58

Australia's Facebook probe is a laughable response

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The way in which the decision by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner to launch a probe into the leakage of personal information of Australians by Facebook is being reported is laughable.

Outlets, both mainstream and tech, act as though this will bring the social media behemoth to its knees and make it quake in fear.

The head of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, snubbed the British Government when it asked him to front up and answer questions in its parliament. And the same man is going to fear a probe by the largely ineffectual privacy commissioner in Australia?

Well, if anyone has hope on that count, they must list among the top optimists in this crazy world. Even Dale Carnegie would rate second to that individual.

Australia has one too many regulatory bodies, all geared towards helping big business achieve its ends. What better example of this than the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and its decision to mandate 121 points of interconnect for the national broadband network?

Building into a single PoI is an expensive business. How did the venerable head of the ACCC think a small or medium-sized ISP could afford to build into 121 PoIs in order to compete with the big boys? There was no way that was going to be possible.

That's one example to which everyone can relate as the NBN is a topic very much in the news.

Let's have a look at the stern words of the acting privacy commissioner, Angelene Falk. As an aside, it is pertinent to note that the federal government values its subjects' privacy to such an extent that it did not even ensure a smooth passage from one privacy commissioner to the next.

No, when Timothy Pilgrim made his exit, the government did nothing to fill his post. Instead, we have an acting commissioner – probably the government is waiting for a supine flunkey to manifest himself/herself before deciding to appoint a new person to the post. An upstart, someone with a mind of his/her own, will never get the job.

But back to Falk's statement. It says an investigation will be carried out to find out if Facebook violated the Australian privacy act. Note: despite all the evidence that is in the public domain, Falk still needs an investigation to find out if information has been stolen.

Yes, despite Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer making an official statement on Wednesday that the personal data of 311,027 Australians was leaked to Cambridge Analytica, we still need an investigation to verify – what?

An investigation is the best way to do something without troubling any of the political interests which are involved. How many politicians have shares in Facebook? Ah, we need to find that out first, in order to avoid rubbing anyone in power the wrong way. After all, it is public money that is used to pay for all these regulators to give us the impression that our interests are being protected.

In the words of the Charles Dickens character, Ebenezer Scrooge, "Bah, humbug."

When one is dealing with someone whose personal wealth is measured in multiple billions, a multimillion Australian dollar fine — which is what The Australian, that august organ that calls itself the voice of the nation or some such, claims Facebook may face — means nothing.

The only way to safeguard the data of an individual is to shut down Facebook completely or fine the company continuously — as no doubt the European Union will do once the General Data Protection Regulation comes in next month — until it meets the standards laid down.

Shouting out that Facebook will face an investigation is meant to placate the local media and give the government something to bleat out when its representatives are questioned.

In reality, it means nothing. Zilch. Zero. Nada. Zip. It is just another meaningless gesture which means that life can now go on and we can all get back to business and being screwed over as usual.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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