web analytics

A survey conducted by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner found that two-third of New Zealanders want more privacy regulation.

Less than a third of those surveyed are happy with things as they stand. Six percent of New Zealanders would like to see less regulation.

Women are more likely to want more privacy than men. The survey found Māori are more likely to be very concerned about individual privacy than others.

Business sharing private data

In general, New Zealanders are most concerned about businesses sharing personal information without permission. Three quarters of the sample worry about this. Almost as many, 72 percent, have concerns about theft of banking details. The same number has fears about the security of online personal information.

The use of facial recognition and closed circuit TV technology is of concern to 41 percent.

UMR Research conducted the survey earlier this year. It interviewed 1,398 New Zealanders.

The survey results appeared a week after Parliament passed the 2020 Privacy Act. They show the public is in broad support of the way New Zealand regulates privacy.

Most of the changes to the Privacy Act bring it up to date. Parliament passed the previous Act in 1993 as the internet moved into the mainstream. There have been huge technology changes since then.

Justice Minister Andrew Little says the legislation introduces mechanisms to promote early intervention and risk management by agencies rather than relying on people making complaints after a privacy breach has already happened.

Mandatory notification

An important part of the new Act is mandatory privacy breach notification.

If an organisation or company has a breach that poses a risk, they are now required by law to notify the Privacy Commissioner and tell anyone affected.

The new Act also strengthens the role of the Privacy Commissioner.

The commissioner can issue a compliance notice telling data users to get their act together and comply with the Act. If they don’t, the commissioner can fine them up to $10,000.

Another update is when a business or organisation deals with a New Zealander’s private data overseas. They must ensure whoever gets that information has the same level of  protection as New Zealand.

The rules apply to anyone. They don’t need to have a New Zealand physical presence. Yes, that means companies like Facebook.

There are also new criminal offences. It’s now a crime to destroy personal information if someone makes a request for it.

Google published its New Zealand accounts for the year to December 31,2019 earlier today.

According to the company’s financial statement Google’s 2019 revenue was NZ$36.2 million. That’s more than double the $17.5 million it made in 2018.

Sales and marketing expenses for the year were $20.4 million. This compares with a shade over $3 million in the previous year.

Which leaves the company with a 2019 profit of $10.6 million. In 2018 the profit was $0.6 million.

More Google tax

It means Google pays more New Zealand company tax than in the past.

Google says its 2019 tax bill is $3.6 million. In the financial statement the income tax expense is listed as $2.5 million. Apparently the lower number is the tax paid during the 2019 year, while $3.6 million represents the total tax the company will pay.

It’s a lot more tax than in the past. Google paid around $400,000 for the previous year.

Yet it is nothing like the whole story. While Google may have booked $36 million of New Zealand revenue in 2019, the figure is only a small fraction of the total amount of business it did in the country.

Does not include everything

A simple back of an envelope calculation shows Google will have booked a total of well over $NZ500 million in advertising last year. The company also has a cloud computing operation, although that is small compared to its advertising business.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) estimates Google made around A$3.7 billion in Australia in 2018.

In 2018 Google changed the way it does business in New Zealand to what it calls its ‘reseller model’. Before that the local office was financed out of the Singapore operation.

Governments around the world are moving to close the loopholes that let tech giants like Google and Facebook avoid paying full local taxes in the countries where they do business. The US government objects to this.

New Zealand’s government has said it hopes to be part of an international approach to the problem and will work with the OECD. This has been slow to date and many countries, including Australia, are moving to introduce a digital services tax.

Twenty organisations have pulled in behind InternetNZ’s call on the government for greater digital inclusion.

While the government has its own digital inclusion plan, the signatories want to push things further and faster.

InternetNZ says this is in part as a response to the Covid–19 pandemic which highlighted the Internet’s importance for work and entertainment. It also wants to prepare the nation for a future where the digital world is only going to become more important.

The action plan covers five areas:

Affordable connectivity

We’ve built networks that can deliver fast broadband to almost every home and business in New Zealand. That’s fine for people with secure jobs and a decent income.

Not everyone can afford a connection. If unemployment takes off a lot more people will be left without the money to connect.

This problem is harder than it looks. It goes beyond the telecommunications sector.

Telecommunications companies are private. They exist to make money for their shareholders.

Intense competition means margins are already slim. New Zealand’s open access network model keeps the sector efficient. There is little fat to trim anywhere.

The InternetNZ plan suggests subsidies to help poorer people connect. I’m not sure that’s the best approach, but it does fit with how we tackle these problems at the moment.

Devices for people who can’t afford them

This is another aspect of the same problem. Too many New Zealanders can’t afford computers, tablets or other internet connection devices.

There are all kinds of traps with schemes to get computers into the hands of poorer New Zealanders.

Expect to lobbying from equipment suppliers and other vested interests to get their technologies accepted as the standard. Their ideas may not be the best options.

Take Chromebooks. They are cheap to buy, but Chromebooks are limited in what they do compared with Windows or Apple computers. That’s fine if you only want people to connect online, but it’s not a good way to help people pick up the digital skills that the plan also calls for.

Moreover Chromebooks lock users into Google’s surveillance capitalism model. Do we want less well off New Zealanders to be bombarded by targeted advertising and YouTube misinformation campaigns?

Windows and Apple computers come with their own lock-in issue. Linux is an alternative, but the open source operating system can be daunting for experienced computer users. Is it fair to land this on less technical folk?

Support for the newly connected

This is relatively easy to implement. Something like it already happens at the digital hubs that are now being established in regional New Zealand. The plan says an option is to increase funding for organisations already active in the community.

Digital skills for displaced workers

While giving displaced workers digital skills sounds good, the idea has a long history and has not always succeeded in the past. Previous schemes to retrain workers for a digital future, here and overseas, have churned out people that employers don’t need or want. This idea needs more work.

Long term internet resilience

The plan says: “Shovel ready investment in our telecommunications infrastructure, to provide future resilience and create employment.”

This can includeextending the fibre network deeper into rural New Zealand and coming up with better projects for more remote users.

We also need more redundancy in networks. Last month Vodafone’s network was disrupted by a couple of fibre cuts, it could be wise to build alternative routes so the network can self-heal when this happens.

Involve everyone

InternetNZ says in the introduction to the plan: “As a country, we especially need to focus on groups in society that need different kinds of support, including Māori, Pasifika, older people, people with disabilities, those on lower incomes, rural users and the homeless.”

This is vital. The pandemic is going to hit all these groups especially hard. It’s easy for comfortable, middle class New Zealanders in leafy suburbs with great broadband to lose sight of this. Spread out the telecommunications wealth and everyone benefits.

Laurence Millar:

I do all my banking, travel booking, shopping and communicating online.  Surely in the 21st century, I should be able to vote online? If you are voting to elect the president of your sports club, then online voting is convenient and easy. But it should never be used to elect our government[…]

Source: Online voting? No thanks! – NZRise

It’s comforting to see someone as knowledgable and experienced in government computing as Laurence Millar choses to speak out about the dangers of online voting.

He makes all the points you might expect: the risks are too high and the rewards for ratbags are too tempting. We know for certain that criminals and unfriendly governments have intervened in election campaigns. Some even boast about it. So it’s realistic to assume they will turn their attention to an actual vote.

The reality is almost no computer system is foolproof. And few are immune from attackers who are prepared to throw enough resources at breaching security.

But there’s more. Millar writes:

…the chimera of manipulated votes is in itself sufficient to undermine confidence in the result of the election.

And this is just as likely to be the goal of those who would attack elections. Yes, they’d love to manipulate the vote. But they also want to undermine the very idea of a democratic vote.

This suits their purposes almost as much.

Millar’s other points are all valid. It’s worth reading the original post.

Yet something else bothers me about the idea of an online election in New Zealand. Typically projects of this nature are put out to tender and awarded to the lowest bidder.

Tender writers may talk about how the project won’t just go to the cheapest bid, but also about the values, privacy, security and yada, yada, yada that need to be embodied in the system.

We all know the reality. Lower prices win.

We’ve seen this time and time again. Tender responses may be full of piety and goody two-shoes language about protecting this and respecting that.

Words are cheap.

When push comes to shove, saving a few bucks here and there will impress the organisation issuing the tender more than anything else.

It always does.

And even if money is no object and the first tender goes to a first class bidder who does everything right, when it comes up for renewal someone else will be purchasing.

Or the next time. Or the time after that.

Sooner or later cheapskates or, just as bad, companies that are better at lobbying governments than delivering on promises will get the job.

Before you know it there will be an argument for, say, using an overseas cloud provider or a well known brand that hasn’t done a sterling job managing its own digital security in the past.

It is in the nature of these things. Sooner or later we are disappointed.

Good on the Professor Juliet Gerrard, the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor, for setting up a web site to address 5G fears.

It counters much of the disinformation in circulation.

Sadly the presentation is awful. It is so poor that the message doesn’t stand much chance of reaching ordinary folk.

Some of the campaigns and disinformation sites attempting to undermine the science are so much slicker.

Not engaging

Take a look at the home page. Web sites don’t get much less engaging.

chief science advisor 5G site
The Prime Minister’s chief science advisor 5G site

It has large blocks of text across a very wide measure. That makes it hard to read. While the text is broken up into blocks lower down the front page, there is a daunting slab of text to get through at the top.

The second paragraph is over 100 words long. You need a Year 12 reading age to comprehend the text. That’s way too high, beyond the majority of readers. Even people are able to read such dense material, tend not to bother.

In other words it reads more like academic or government writing than, say, newspaper or magazine copy.

When official equals boring, unreadable

Now there is a case for this. It is, after all, an official government science response. Yet, it is up against disinformation campaigns that know exactly how to reach the target audience.

It’s good that the designer1 uses links in another colour. This breaks up the blocks giving the reader’s eye signposts as they wade through the dreary text.

Even the text chosen here is wrong. It should be larger, although I’m impressed that it uses a bold typeface, that helps with accessibility for readers with poor eyesight.

What we have here is important. The site contains the information people need. In places the language is clear enough. I like this part:

“The currently available scientific evidence makes it extremely unlikely that there will be any adverse effects on human or environmental health.”

For a scientist it is reasonably tight. Although the journalist in me says this could also be clearer:

“Scientists think it is unlikely 5G will harm you or the environment”.

Commercial alternative

Compare the chief science advisor’s page with this page from Vodafone group out of the UK.

Vodafone UK 5G safety page
Vodafone 5G safety page from UK

It’s unambiguous, straight to the point and easy to read. Even though it gets technical and deep in places, it still does a better job of explaining the issues.

Of course, you might be thinking that it is one thing for a chief science advisor to tell the 5G safety story and another thing entirely for folk that are flogging the technology to tell the story. You’d be right.

Yet the New Zealand government could have made an important piece of public information more engaging. Look at Vodafone’s 5G infographic below. It packs a lot of complex information into a simple, easy to understand image.

The funny thing is, New Zealand’s often doesn’t have this problem with other public information campaigns when it hires an advertising agency to get the message across. Maybe that’s what’s needed here.

Vodafone UK 5G safety page
Vodafone’s 5G infographic makes an otherwise hard to explain concept easy to understand.

  1. I’m assuming it was designed and not just templated together, but I could be wrong about that. ↩︎