How Australia's Proposed Internet Censorship Will (And Won't) Affect Video Games

While the lack of an adults-only rating for video games hogs all the headlines when it comes to gaming and Australia, there's a far more sinister threat lurking on the horizon: internet censorship. But how does this affect gaming?

Proposals currently working their way through the system (it's important to note these aren't law yet, and may well be shot down before becoming so) would require that all internet service providers in Australia sign up to the federal government's filtering program, which would compile a list of banned content and block that content from appearing on a user's computer.

The filter would not just include the really nasty stuff, like child porn and terrorist activity, but expand to include anything that was "refused classification" under the nation's content ratings laws. While this would mostly concern things like films (stuff like snuff flicks... pornography rated "X" is OK, as it's been rated) or comics (like some of Japan's more...extreme offerings), because of the country's classification laws, it would also expand to cover gaming material.

This means that if a game is refused classification (RC) in Australia - like, say, NFL Blitz, or Getting Up - content related to these games would be added to the ISP filter. Throwing up a range of questions, foremost of those being, what happens when an otherwise harmless website - like, say, this one - hosts material from those games (screenshots, trailers, etc) that is totally fine in the US or Japan or Europe, but that has been refused classification in Australia?

The "good" news is, not much. The Australian Department of Broadband Communication has told Kotaku that when RC content is flagged and added to the filter - and remember, it has to be reported in a complaint first to be flagged, the government won't be actively on the look-out for stuff - it won't block the entire website. Only the URL of an actual image or video clip would be filtered.

Things are even less stringent when it comes to online games. Because the wheels are in motion to address the nation's lack of an adults-only rating in Australia, the "government's approach to filtering online games will be developed drawing on this consultation process". In other words, it's a wait and see approach, the results of the discussion papers (or even a clear indication gleaned from them of the public's wishes) into expanding Australia's game ratings to determine whether things like massively-multiplayer online titles or online shooters deemed RC are included in the filter or not.

Until this time, games will be entirely excluded from the filter. So if an MMO title is refused classification in Australia, and you manage to import it from overseas (which is technically illegal), you'll be good to go, as it won't be blocked.

This is all, of course, absurd. You can't control the internet any more than you can control the rising and setting of the sun. All the federal government is doing here is displaying how remarkably out of touch they are on contemporary issues of censorship, and how ignorant the federal minister responsible for the filter proposal - Stephen Conroy - is in regards to how easy it is to bypass such measures.

But it's not all bad news. Like I said above, this isn't yet law. It's a proposal, one that's been dragging on for a few years now and has been constantly beset by issues, from findings that the filter doesn't work (some harmless sites are blocked, while targeted ones get through) to the fact it can't monitor peer-to-peer networks (so, BitTorrent) to a large body of dissent amongst Australia's internet service providers.

Because of all this, I can't personally see it becoming law. It's just got too many hurdles to clear, both politically and technically.

But just in case it does, that's all you need to know about how it will affect gaming, and the coverage of games. And hey, even if it does pass into law, remember; a change in Australia's ratings guidelines would make it irrelevant, as stuff rated R18+ would no longer be "refused classification", and as such wouldn't be filtered in the first place.


Comments

    I think that even *if* it's passed into law, an ISP with enough clout to actually take it to court could have it overruled in the High Court. Or at least much restricted over what the current proposal is asking for...

    Hang on, how can they block sites that have pictures and video about RC games on them, when the ratings are meant to apply to the games themselve's and what ever content from the games on the netdo not fall under RC themselves (because they are just images and video and not the game)?

    PS: Hang conroy!

    Another thing that might be considered with respect to gaming is Ping time. If all your traffic has to pass through an extra layer on its way to and from the destination this is bound to result in extra latency.

    Really doesn't bode well in a world bound for peer to peer gaming.

      It won't affect ping times. As I understand it, basically they make an addition to ISPs DNS server. If the DNS name of the host is in the blacklist, the DNS server returns a special IP address for servers belonging to the government instead of the orginal host's IP address. The HTTP request then goes to that server instead of the original and that server will choose to return a "blocked" response instead of the original, or to pass the request to the original host (depending on the actual URL).

      So that means if certain pages on Kotaku are blocked (for example) then ALL requests to Kotaku servers will first go through the filter. But if no pages on Kotaku are blocked, then it's business as usual. So a game server at "login.mygame.com" or whatever will not run any slower because the DNS name "login.mygame.com" will not show up in the blacklist (hopefully!) At worst, the original DNS query might be a bit slower (but you probably wouldn't notice).

      Of course, that leaves open the question: what if I use a public DNS server in the U.S. instead of my ISP's DNS server?

        Good point, and it is possible to host your own DNS. But then again it is trivial to transparently redirect DNS traffic upstream. Luckily it is also trivial to tunnel DNS traffic through SSH or proxies, and to maintain local hosts or zone files.

      This is one of my concerns. Australia's internet infrastructure is not all that good at the moment compared to other countries, and the censorship would just increase the disparity. When I have a ping of about 300-500ms on average, sometimes worse (quite often 600-800ms in WoW), I would be very annoyed by an unnecessary increase.

      Not only that, but the proposed filter can't really stop criminals from accessing the material that it is supposed to block - it is apparently very easy to set up some sort of VPN through another country such as the USA, completely bypassing the filter in minutes, amongst other methods. While the rest of us have to suffer decreased performance and stability.

      I'd say the government, and in particular Stephen Conroy, have shot themselves in the foot, but I doubt they have the a steady enough aim to do so.

      The pings would only be affected if they implemented deep packet inspection. This level of inspection used as a general system would require a lot of work and the incredible laziness of the plan as it stands shows that they aren't in the mood to do work, just pretend like they're doing work

        "they aren’t in the mood to do work, just pretend like they’re doing work"

        This.

    I'm surprised that krudd hasn't removed Mr Conroy given that he appears to have his hands in everyone's pants but rudd's.

    I don't expect net censorship to go through, I have this feeling common sense will prevail in the end, but then there are people like Michael Atkinson still getting elected, so I wonder if common sense is really only available to a privledged few?

      you know what would lose rudd lots of votes? if abbot vows to get rid of the filter :P

      The reason Rudd has not sacked Conroy is that Rudd is fully in favour of censoring the internet. He won't say anything in relation to the whole issue so that if it does fail, Conroy can get the blame, but at the same time the Labor party forces all its ministers to vote in favour of it even if they publicly oppose it. When it comes to the critical vote, they HAVE to vote for it, or they immediately face the axe. For an example, see Kate Lundy's blog. She's all against it, but has stated on her own blog that she'll have to vote for it.

        Even less reason to respect her then, just another coward pollitician wanting to get re-elected. These sorts are the problem with politics today, willing to speak out against something, but will still vote for it.

    There is also the potential for popular digital delivery platforms like Steam to become feature-restricted in Australia if this goes through. It's worth noting that Apple has already had to suspect iTunes gifting function in Australia because it was found that you were able to give MA15+ movies as gifts without verifying the age of recipients, which is Prohibited. Steam offers the exact same function - only it also allows you to be gifted content that is or would be RC, such as an uncut version of L4D2.

    Unfortunately, at the moment I think it has a very good change of becoming law. While net users are up in arms about it, too many Australians don't know or don't care about the proposal, or think it'll be a great way to help them protect their kids online - when it won't, not by a long shot. You can see the contrast in the Hungry Beast and Whirlpool polls – ask the technologically adept, and opposition to the filter is over 90%. As the general public, and support for it is over 80%.

    It's dead certain to pass the House due to the way the Labor Party works, and if even a few Liberals can be persuaded to cross the floor (and they have, historically, been the ones interested in filtering), it will pass the Senate. In that scenario, the best we can really hope for is the Greens amending the heck out of it before it passes, and *maybe* getting an opt-out filter.

    If you want to stop this from happening, you need to get off your ass and get involved. Read what's going on with at the Open Internet site. Write to your local representatives. Sign the EFA petition which, unlike most online petitions, is actually done properly so it can be presented to the Senate. Talk to your friends and family. Just don't be a typical apathetic aussie and presume it won't go anywhere.

      HTML works on comments now?

      one thing to add to what bookbuster said...DO NOT SUPPORT the actions of groups like Annomyus...while they too dont like the though internet censorship, any time they do denial of service attacks and such against the fedral government, they in turn hurt those of us who oppose the mandatory filtering by giving the government the moral high ground and more reason to instate it.

      IAWTC.

      I am so worried about an aging population being manipulated into voting politicians like Conroy back in. We do ALL need to get off our arses and do what we can.

        We're probably stuck with Conroy for the foreseeable future with no real way of voting him out unless Australia suddenly wakes up and starts voting below the line. He's a factional heavy-weight who is essentially guaranteed a seat and nice portfolio due to internal Labor Party politics. Essentially, there was an agreement done to stop in-fighting within the Victorian branch of the ALP, and one of the results of that is that Conroy is first in line when it comes to receiving senate votes and preferences.

    Unfortunately I think it's simply too hard to educate the masses in something they simply aren't interested in. If it is sold to people as the easy solution to filtering the net for their children, etc, then that's going to be all they take in, and that's what they'll accept. So us gamers are ultimately unaffected IF we get this R18+ rating?

    dude, fucking finally, about time that you talked about the internet filter on kotaku.

    Didn't mention that the proposed black list includes sites like Wiki-Leaks.

    There not just discussing the removal of child porn and terrorism methodology, (really..? including first year chemistry?), they're also discussing the removal of stuff that may be politically sensitive.

    That's not a slope I want Conroy playing at the top of.

      That is what worries me the most about the internet filter. How can a democratic country allow and/or support the government gaining the ability to restrict what information comes in and out of the country. I'm not saying that the current government intends to use the filter for political advantage by restricting news damaging to it, How would I know what goes through their heads, but I do believe that if the potential is there it will be abused the power at some stage.

    here is what I dont get about this filter - why does it have to be secret? If they are so hell bent on installing it, surely they have some level of confidence that it will work, right? Otherwise, why would they be spending shitloads of money on a technology they know is not goign to do anything?

    Assuming they believe the filter is working, it should then be harmless to make public the list of blocked sites, because there is no way we can actually access them, is there? Of course, I know there is, but it seems like a huge admission that they know the technology they are proposing is not going to work.

    PS, I am completely against compulsory filtering. If they feel kids are at risk, the howard governments plan of free filtering software seems like a much better option to me. If a parent is worried, a parent can do something about it. Dont kill the internet for the rest of us.

      "Assuming they believe the filter is working"

      There's where you're going off track. They know it won't do anything, except give the general public the IMPRESSION that they are protecting the kids. It's just like a lot of the processes / restrictions put in place to "defend" against terrorism - they're not really that effective against determined terrorists but they make the general public FEEL like the government is doing something to make them safer. People vote for politicians who make them FEEL like their life is better / safer / etc.

      By making the block list secret, (depending upon legislative penalties) it becomes a strong deterrent to mainstream news / media exposing the ineffectiveness / inconsistencies in the list.

      In fairness to parents though if you were 15 would you let your parents install a filter on your computer?

      I may be in the minority, but I think the censorship is great for blocking certain sites to do with child pornography and such sites. I don't agree on this refused classification stuff.

      In saying that I can see why they want to keep it hidden, it would be basically advertising child pornography websites.

      If the filter only applied to stuff such as child pornography, snuff films, and other stuff generally not at all acceptable I would be all for it. Unfortunately it's not going to work like that and we are opening ourselves up for a whole lot of censorship in the future

        Luke,

        The filter will not work AT ALL for those purposes. It will filter web traffic only, it will not filter bit-torrent, Instant Messaging, VPN or SSH tunnels, Google Cache, Youtube (they are negotiating with google to achieve this), TOR or any one of a thousand other protocols for distributing materials via the net.

        People who trade in this filth dont go to a website to obtain it. The filter WILL NOT FILTER THE TEHCNOLOGIES THAT ARE USED TO DISTRIBUTE THIS STUFF. It is a complete and total waste of taxpayer money and can be by-passed with the simplest of methods. We know this is the case because the filter trial report tells us this.

      Tim, a local (home) based filter WAS a much better idea. You could set it up more effectively, it could filter out sites that you could personally deem unacceptable etc etc, it was 10x more powerful, 100x even. This filter itself, is pure garbage. I have friends in telstra and friends in iinet who have all said that it's an absolute joke, that it will simply collapse in on itself within 2 years. All it is, is a vote grabbing exercise by the Rudd govt (I usually DO vote Labor btw) to get the votes of the uninformed masses, the Today Tonight watchers, the ACA crowd, to get them to vote for them, the same people who believe the R rating is a bad idea etc etc... the idiots who live among us. We need to educate these people, to elevate their understandings out of fantasy and into reality, but it will take time...

      The reason they don't want the list released is because the filter is not currently in operation. So by publishing the list now, you literally are just giving people a list of child porn, terrorism, abortion, and Queensland dentist's websites.

      Having said that, when Wikileaks first posted the list, and then 'mysteriously' became inaccessible from Australia for a day or so, I reposted the list on my own website.

        The reason they won't publish the list is because they know the filter can be easily bypassed.

    We put 3 teenagers to the test, to see how long it took them to buypass th- Oh? You're done?
    How did you do it?
    Proxy.
    Proxy.
    Proxy.

    And if they block all the proxies you just host a new one for under $3 a month!

    And they wouldn't block ANY actual dangerous content as that would all be using P2P.

    So they don't stop any criminals but halt the research of thousands of uni students by blocking lots of other shit.

    Doesn't Kevin Rudd support this internet censcorship?
    Its particuarly scary since we all know the majority of the population doesnt understand this wont help anything at all
    So we know its gonna get in, thats the scariest thing
    We're quickly joining china and other countries like this in how our cuntry is being run
    It seems like our government feels like it should tell us what to do in how we act and think
    Has it really gotten this bad that we have to actually worry about things like this?

    The internet censorship issue is bigger than just the technology, it's a blockage of Freedom of Speech. It's a power and system that governments in the future can exploit to to block content that does not support there ideals. (Nothing stopping a political party making a submission to block certain online material). A government should protect it's people but not control what they can and can not read or view and in gaming's case interact with.

    I'm not saying that Child Pornography or terrorism manuals should be legally available over the internet and anyone caught accessing or producing this material should be punished with the full weight of the law. But with this method of censorship they are impinging on a basic right that we Australian's have and that is the freedom to speech and information.

    And to add to Tim's comment, the fact the blacklist is to remain secret sets of alarm bells for me.

    My 2 cents.

    I can tell some of the commenters here have no clue of whats about to happen in regards to censorship, and to be honest, i wonder why, this is an important issue, more important that just the R18 rating.

    if you havnt signed the petition or what to know more, please start here - http://openinternet.com.au/

    Also, learn how to vote under the line, and send Lib and Labor to the VERY BOTTOM. ... Democrats or other parties like Sex party and Pirate party to the top. That is of course, if you want a morally progressive Australia with excellent policies geared towards more freedom, not less.

    Internet Filtering: Making Taskforce Argos' job harder.

    If they impose the filter, the police taskforce made to target these few criminals (namely people downloading child exploitation material, and interacting with children over the internet) will be faced with the job of trying to then target underground sites or more complex transferring operations... which I say will probably become more advanced and complex due to the filter.

    Filtering the content doesn't change these few individuals mindset and by hook or by crook, they'll somehow satisfy their taboo. So the question is, do we hurt the mass by imposing retarded filters or do we leave it open and let stupid deviants get caught out in the open.

    It’s safe to say the filter will cause more problems then good, and won't solve any of the issues facing internet security. But I will outline:

    THIS IS NOT A GOVERNMENT ISSUE, filtering worldwide content is in no way the act of a fully democratic society, its merely a nuisance will WILL be hacked by anon. Parents should either restrict or not allow internet instant messaging if they cannot trust their child’s judgment. IT’S REALLY THAT SIMPLE >_<!

    I’m absolutely tired of our parliamentary members thinking they have somehow been given the seal of approval to do what they want... and neither do I think this should be left to referendum; because frankly most people are stupid and misguided at this topic (ACA, Today Tonight, and the people who watch it just prove this point).

    Ahhh...it's the start of the Chinese takeover.

    First we have a PM that speaks mandarin and now an internet filter.

    The DNS technique of filtering was done by Telstra's trial, it showed you can only maybe filter 10,000 URL's before it creates significat slowdowns and also if high-traffic URLs are added to the list that will also cause major slowdowns.

    Youtube has many videos that would be put into RC, euthanasia, graffiti, safe drug videos etc. Conroy has already asked Youtube to remove content that would be RC just like China does (virtually his exacty words), mainly because adding such URLs will break the internet or at least Youtube for example.

    The Government's trial was mainly pass-through filtering and almost exclusively Marshal censorware. It wasn't conducted with any sort of high-user base (1 ISP had 15 users testing it and 1 of those opted out, because of overblocking). Also the speeds it was tested at was only 8mbps. So we have no idea how this will scale once it hits a few million users and especially with 100mbps fiber from NBN. Also they still showed performance degradation of 'negligible' amounts which they defined as <10%. No latency data was shown in the trial report (would be pleased to be proved wrong though, as i'm certain it was only throughput that was tested).

    It is likely that the opposition to the R18+ rating system for games will no longer be in power after March 20th. Gamers rejoice! No more R.C. ratings because of an ill fitting law.

    The internet censorship legislation is however a very real threat to gamers. The "hybrid" censorship engine that proved to work so well for the ACMA's trials last year uses a combination of deep packet inspection and BGP poisoning/proxying. The request is analysed and if the domain of the destination is on the "ACMA Blacklist: see wikileaks" the request is diverted.

    It is redirected from its correct destination with faulty routing instructions (BGP poison). It is pumped through a 'transparent' proxy. If that EXACT URL (same path and filename) is on the blacklist, the request is directed at a "ACCESS DENIED" proxy page.
    If the EXACT path and filename is NOT on the list, the request is proxied (forwarded on behalf, and logged and stored) to the correct server.

    The problem with this is all traffic looks like it is coming from the same place. Very recently in the UK, a similar technology (yes it is in place elsewhere in the world -- despite both sides claiming presidence) was used to block a wikipedia page. This caused the proxy address to be blocked from editing because of abuse, effectively denying thousands from accessing this service.

    Conroy has even admitted that this technology will slow down youtube. There *ARE* youtube videos that are R.C. (to say nothing of the 'crimson pipe' type video streaming sties).
    He tried to get youtube to censor their content. Google Australia refused.

    The ACMA tests were done on up to 10 machines. There is no telling if the technology even scales to 17 million people.

    Which brings me back to games.
    Company XYZ releases a game on "steampowered.com". Oh dear, that game has 'realistic drug, violence or sexual themes" or maybe it is culturally insensitive (see daikatana).

    Can't allow that, it would be rated X+ but we don't have that for games. R.C.
    Add to the ACMA blacklist for bureaucratic completeness.
    Suddenly all steam content is proxied through the great barrier firewall proxy.
    Ugh! Can't comment on the forums because some 14 year old got the one Australian proxy IP banned.
    Ugh! Can't download at faster than 10KB/s because the proxy is overloaded!
    Ugh! Game server dropped the session because the HTTP tunnel used to allow gaming behind a firewall was lost when another player signed in/out.

    The technology is immature, and the Federal governments plans are even worse.

    Don't let this happen Australia.

    Hi who cares about all your precious violent games,
    Americas Army is a perfect example on how they are getting our young into violence from a young age, i'm sure an Australian version is just around the corner, go and do something useful and peaceful with your time.

      You're joking, right? America's Army is a recruitment game for the US Army.

      It's also rated "T" in the US, which is the equivalent of "M" here. Not even MA, certainly not R18+!

      I think a Troll just stumbled into the wrong wasp nest.
      If you don't agree with another countries military recruitment strategy then complain to them, not to us.
      "who cares about all your precious violent games..." - the simple answer is the majority of Adult gamers in Australia. If you don't believe in having a clearer rating system, which doesn't let games designed for people aged over 18 to be rated MA15+ then you clearly don't care about the people you are trying to protect.
      Playing a video game is one of the most peaceful things I do, it doesn't matter about the content generally, but I personally find it relaxing to pwn n00bs in a virtual environment, it helps me distress after a long day of monotonous work. I get the same relief when playing innocent games like Little Big Planet as well.

      Finally - if you don't agree with this article or anything on this website, then please leave, you are wasting your time and ours, because I can guarantee that 98% of the people who come to this site will not agree with you, so save it for comments on the www.news.com.au website with the other uninformed drones.

        "Hi who cares about all your precious violent games,"

        Games dont have to be violent to have an R18+ rating.

    "This is all, of course, absurd. You can’t control the internet any more than you can control the rising and setting of the sun. "

    I believe the accepted analogy is that the internet is akin to a series of tubes and not, in fact, like a big truck.

    Don't worry -- if and when the filter proves ineffective, they'll just start researching more thorough and draconian filtering methods.

    @Ridcrime get off your high horse I prefer people to take out their frustrations on a video game than actually going out and creating crimes.

    I have been playing "violent" video games for many years and after a hard day at work I find it relaxes me.

    this is all about control and power
    taking over telsra which they say is a mononply and repalce it with the biggest monoply going around the Federal Government which no Labour party has ever made a profit in their life then you control the information by censoring the information that you dont want the public to know

    What the government giveth the government can taketh away

    A complaints based filtering system will not have a dramatic impact on the Australian gaming computer. Groups that would place a complain about violent game content rarely have first hand knowledge regarding the market. Even when a media panic occurs and a game is classified as RC, adult gamers, the target market, will know how to get around the filter.

    The real victim will be groups such as gay and lesbian communities, womens rights activists and legal "smut" ;-) industries. These groups have strong detractors who do not shy away from making vocal complains against them. The filtering system will be another weapon to wield for their moral ideology.

    One thing that has surprised me is why other groups are not strongly campaigning by our side. Prediction, if gay and lesbian communities don't take up the clean feed battle with more strength then they approach other gay rights issues, international gay and lesbian sites will start disappearing off the Australian web radar. They wont disappear because the ACB does like gays, they'll disappear because the number of complains will ensure that "accidents happen".

    I, for one, look forward to this filter... simply because I run a number of proxy websites all standing to profit massively from this filter. No, really, currently I make around $30-40 a week in ads on the sites as it is now. Just imagine if the demographic expanded from school kids, to the entire population.

    Ahhh I can see the profits now!

    Back in reality, however, this is just another government scam to help the Aussie ACA and Today Tonight viewers feel comfortable. When really all it is doing is stuffing money into the pockets of people like myself (and the slime willing to help set this thing in to place).

    There's another aspect of this not covered Luke.

    An advertisement for a movie can still be shown in cinemas before the movie is rated.

    Thus, you could see an R rated movie trailer during a PG or M rated movie. It's rare, but it can happen.

    So, if something is RC, it may still be allowable to have links to that content on a website if those are deemed to fit within our rating.

    But this is just another sign our ratings need a serious overhaul.

      "Thus, you could see an R rated movie trailer during a PG or M rated movie. It’s rare, but it can happen."

      Not in SA it can't - the new censorship laws passed back just before christmas make it illegal to advertise an R rated movie. Thankyou, Michael Atkinson, you .

        I read that didn't apply to movie theatres, but did apply everywhere else including video stores.

          If the movie hasn't been classified yet though it doesn't have an R rating (even if it may have one after it is classified) so it wouldn't be illegal to advertise it untill it finally is classified with that rating.

          Or in SA do they never show any movie trailers that have that screen which says "awaiting classification" cos they do all the time in NSW, QLD and ACT.

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