HoTs and DoTs: A Restoration Druid and Shadow Priest

Internet Censorship and the Future of World of Warcraft in Australia

The violent slaughter (Paladin in Wesfall kills Goretusk)

Bring on the "Fantasy Violence"!

In December, 2009, it was announced that new legislation, entitled Measures to improve safety of the internet for families, would be introduced in Autumn 2010 after public consultation. The new legislation will support mandatory Internet filtering.

If you read some of the other insightful blogs written by Australian World of Warcraft players like Pugnacious Priest and Gnomeaggedon you may have picked up on some ominous musings about the “future of the internet” and our freedom to see, well, whatever the hell we want to see, as adults in Australia.

The government has was rumbling about protecting the children from violence and pornography on the internet for as long as I can remember. Probably since the day the first Australian used the internet.

The crux of the problem, or at least the problem with the early legislation, is that very few website owners host their content in Australia. It’s much cheaper to pay for hosting with a company out of America or Asia. And the early, free hosting services like Angelfire were always hosted outside our national boundaries. Outside our government’s boundaries.

If they found illegal music posted on a site hosted in Australia, they could have it removed and deleted. And they could arrest and fine the owner. But if it was hosted overseas, their hands were tied.

Then someone realised that even if the content itself is out of our reach in Australia, the user’s ability to see it is well within our control. Since 2000 a project has been underway to create the Great Australian Firewall. All internet service providers in Australia – the guys you connect to first in order to access the internet – will check what you want to look at against the government’s good and bad list.

I’m not going to debate about what is and isn’t justified as ending up on that blacklist. Most of the proponents of this plan have basically summed up their stance by saying “what is being black-listed is illegal content that you would not be allowed to see on film or in any other media”. I guess the argument goes that snuff films aren’t allowed in cinemas in Australia, so why should people be allowed to sit at their computer and watch them?

But there are two major problems, and one is directly related to video games – online games like World of Warcraft, in particular.

The first major problem is that nobody but the government is allowed to know what is and isn’t on their black list. Some stuff has been leaked, and websites that link to black listed sites get deleted too. I assume that talking about a black listed site will eventually get you black listed.

The problem is made worse by the fact that the government is already restricting internet users from researching and forming their own opinion about the Great Australian Firewall itself!:

After the Australian government announced plans to mandate Internet filtering in Australia in December 2009, an anti-censorship website (stephenconroy.com.au) … was taken offline … only 24 hours of being published online.

So, no, I don’t trust the government to keep their black list to illegal pornography in an effort to protect the children.

The second major problem is that we don’t have a 18+ video game classification in Australia. We can only legally buy, download and play games deemed suitable for 15 year olds (MA15+). If it’s more violent than that – we’re not allowed it.

The average age of gamers in Australia is 30.

In February last year there was a bit of controversy when it was revealed that all online games, because they don’t have a single, standard player experience, are technically not classified under Australian law. And if they’re not classified, they’re illegal to sell, buy, download and own. Yep, in 2009 we discovered that the game we had been playing for the last four years was illegal.

Retailers like Electronics Boutique were antsy and hesitant to remove all their copies of WoW, Age of Conan, Warhammer Online and other online games off the shelves – potentially losing their customers and their business. The government’s response was essentially that it was up to local law enforcement to decide if there were going to enforce this particular law or not… basically… they intended to turn a blind eye to the whole mess.

After the fallout settled down they quietly classified World of Warcraft, granting it a M rating for “fantasy violence”.

So World of Warcraft will still be playable once the filter is in place. You might need to say goodbye to some of the flash-based internet games freely available on the web – many of them are not classified.

Unfortunately, the filter itself places a heavy burden on our ability to travel the internet quickly. We may be looking at a degradation of our connection speed.

To support peaks in traffic, vendors recommend allowing additional network capacity of approximately four times the estimated traffic at the filter.

An early report implies that running the filter requires the ISP to provide up to 4 times the amount of bandwidth than they currently use to maintain their service standard.

The same report does consider how their test user’s latency changed when funneled through the filter. Frankly, the data here is just too sketchy. I don’t think enough users have tested it and certainly the test itself was limited to low traffic websites (the report admits that the filter could slow down YouTube and the like by about 20%). There are a couple of entries that imply the user’s latency improved when using the filter and the ISP in question goes on to say that they can’t explain how this happened except that it was probably due to some external factor and not the filter itself.

The most likely results report about a 2% increase in Latency.

I honestly don’t know enough about technology and how data is sent back and forth between a computer and the World of Warcraft server. Perhaps it will bypass this filter entirely.

However, I do think that overall our internet connection and data transfer rate is going to suffer and slow down. I know that we complain about 400-500ms right now, but I think we need to start enjoying a half second delay while we still have it. It could get much, much worse.

***

Writing this, I am ashamed to be an Australian. My only power lies in which party I vote for, and this project has been championed by the two biggies over the last 10 years.

BTW: If you’d like to read more, most of the facts and quotes in this article come from an absolutely excellent article about the matter on Wikipedia. Or you can read more about it here and here. Or you can watch this news clip on YouTube. Australian readers can also sign this online petition if you oppose mandatory ISP filtering.

27 Responses to “Internet Censorship and the Future of World of Warcraft in Australia”

  1. AngelyaNo Gravatar says

    Sigh, this whole thing makes me really sad. I know they are doing it for the “Greater Good” (Shaun of the Dead moment there), but blocking sites based on a list that itself is secret and people starting to get punished for complaining about it just.. seems a bit Chinese to me.
    All we can do is sign the petition and hope that whatever they do won’t affect our speeds too much. Well, it’s not all we could do, we could all down tools and march to parliament houses and throw things, but that’s a bit Un-Australian.
    We’re still too politely British for our own good, y’know ;)
    .-= Angelya’s last blog … Storming the Citadel and Making a Mess =-.

  2. ShayzaniNo Gravatar says

    Every time I hear about this I still can’t believe its a real thing.
    .-= Shayzani’s last blog … So what’s the big deal with Ulduar? =-.

  3. WindsoarNo Gravatar says

    I’m frankly appalled every time this topic is broached. The move implies that adults are not capable of choosing their content OR incapable of policing their children’s activities. At some point children have to make the transition from having decisions made for them and being able to make correct choices for themselves based on a value system.

    Ultimately, censorship of any kind has serious implications in any society.
    .-= Windsoar’s last blog … Technical Doohickey =-.

    • CassandriNo Gravatar says

      @Windsoar In an earlier draft I mentioned NetNanny and similar software. I think if families want to police what their children see on the Internet, and they can’t actually be present to watch what their child is looking at, some kind of client software is a better idea in the long run. Sure, these programs suck, but the proposed filter is pretty sucky too – it overblocks about 3% of the time and can’t block torrents or p2p content.

      @Shayzani Neither can I :(

      @Angelya I actually wouldn’t be too opposed to the idea if the actual black list was made public. I’d still disagree with the technical solution… but not the idea.

  4. One of the few things I can say on the good side of the USA is that censorship is such a HUGE no-no, that this type of legislation will have (and has had) a hard time gaining much sipport here.

    “Think of the children” always garners a little support, but overall, we’re too uspicous of government to allow it.

    Letting large coporations govern our net usage seems AOK though :-/ (aka the fight against net neutrality here)

    My fingers are crossed for my friends in Oz…
    .-= SlikRX/Balthazario’s last blog … Signs, Signs, Everwhere a Sign… =-.

  5. VokNo Gravatar says

    Seems we’re an Enemy of the Internet

    http://news.softpedia.com/news/Australia-Is-on-Its-Way-of-Becoming-an-Enemy-of-the-Internet-137311.shtml

    “The report lists the countries where freedom of expression online is greatly restricted. The worst offenders, 12 countries, are grouped together under the ‘Enemies of the Internet’ label and these are the places where Internet access is either very hard to come by or is heavily filtered. The 12 countries, none of which is a surprising inclusion, are: Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, North Korea, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Uzbekistan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.

    However, the journalism advocacy organization also maintains a second list of “under surveilance” countries, where things aren’t as bad as in the one above, but where Internet access isn’t as free as it should be. Two countries on this second list stand out, partly because it’s the first time they’ve been added, but mainly because they are, for all (other) intents and purposes, democracies.

    “Among the countries ‘under surveillance’ are several democracies: Australia, because of the upcoming implementation of a highly developed Internet filtering system”

    Lofty company….
    .-= Vok’s last blog … MMO records =-.

  6. The technical impact on WoW should be less than what you would see on actual media content downloads, like music and video.

    Warcraft is a relatively low-bandwidth game. All of the graphics are handled in the local client, while a small stream of data between the client and server updates positioning and activity. The format of the data is relatively unimportant – if it’s binary or text based, it all comes down to “mob 1234567 moves to x:45.677 y:65.279.”

    Content interception is different. There, you have streaming media that is very high bandwidth being processed through a matching pattern to try to find matches with known objectionable content. That’s the hard, expensive way to do it, but it’s entirely possible that’s what the plan is. This requires a LOT of iron.

    A simpler type of content filtering, and one I think the AU government is more likely to adopt, is URL-based filtering. That they are not blocking torrents or P2P leads me to think that this is what they’re implementing. The overhead placed on this kind of traffic is mostly in the initial load, as the blacklist is checked to see if traffic is allowed through. The DNS lookup that takes place when accessing the page suffers the delay, but not the rest of the transmission. This is different from a constant filter, which would affect the download equally.

    Once you are connected to your Warcraft server, several things are in your favor. First, I am pretty sure WoW doesn’t use standard web ports. I’ll have to run a sniffer to find out which ones it does use, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not 80/443. Second, once you’re connected the address doesn’t need to be constantly rechecked – your computer has cached the IP address of that server and talks directly to it. Third, the data transmission is not going to be of a parsable media type (avi, swf, jpg, etc.) so should be skipped by content filters (because they would not know how to parse them.)

    Unfortunately, this presumes a rational way of implementing the firewall. For all I know this could be done very poorly (from a design standpoint).

    It is already being done poorly from a policy standpoint, so perhaps I am overly optimistic. But I think that while this will have noticable impact on YouTube, it should have little to no impact on Warcraft.

    Again, assuming they don’t fuck up their firewall rules.
    .-= Cynwise of Stormwind’s last blog … Drain Tanking =-.

  7. I should note that I’m not in favor of this law, not one bit.

    Similar legislation has been proposed multiple times in the USA but has been defeated – sometimes narrowly – by civil liberties groups working together with the ISPs.

    The filtering has been pushed down to the end user, through COTS software, where it should have been all along. People want to filter? Fine, filter at your house. Don’t filter at mine.
    .-= Cynwise of Stormwind’s last blog … Drain Tanking =-.

  8. Darth SoloNo Gravatar says

    I just love it when douchebag governments start dictating what we should and shouldn’t do on the internet. Unfortunately the net censorship issue is becoming worse in a lot of countries. It’s just a matter of time before we’ll all be forced to run our connection through a VPN service such as Pirate Bay’s IPREDATOR.

  9. PapaNastyNo Gravatar says

    Stupid legislation imo

    Money would be better spent, creating a content filtering software which they then make open source and release on the internet for download by concerned parents etc.

    Or even better, albeit more expensive, send out a cd to everyone in Australia with the software + easy instructions, along with including the cd for free with every computer sold (As well as making it available to download). Then employ 10 people until the end of time to constantly patch and update the software.

    They could even include a mandatory pc tax at the point of sale, to help fund the software, since everyone loves to have more tax.

    It’d create jobs and give consumers something physical which would provide more satisfaction and peace of mind, while at the same time making it pro choice.

  10. LathNo Gravatar says

    If I felt for a second that this type of system was going to help stop child pornography or snuff films, videos or rape or the many other terrible activities that are currently part of RC classification, then I would support this movement wholeheartedly regardless of how much it fucks up my internet connection or limits my freedom to watch what I choose.

    Lets be realistic. The only thing having a giant firewall is doing is hiding this content from viewers. The government is simply deciding that pretending and hiding this type of stuff is “protecting” the population. As long as there is a market for RC content people will keep making it. It’s a cowardly solution – like people that see someone getting bashed on the street who don’t try to help they just turn away and pretend they didn’t see anything.

    The other major problem I have with respects to this is what is classified as RC content. Information about euthenasia for example is a hotly contested topic that I believe people should be able to research and making their own opinions of. Euthenasia is classified as RC and Australians will no longer be able to view content that relates to this in any way shape or form.

    In any event as I work for a hosting company/domain registrar its a very interesting topic that I certainly have been trying to keep up with. For any Australians who read this and feel strongly that this is a terrible project and decision I recommend signing the online petition at http://www.efa.org.au/epetition/
    .-= Lath’s last blog … Internet Censorship and the Future of World of Warcraft in Australia =-.

  11. BeruthielNo Gravatar says

    I’ve read about this a few times, and everytime I shake my head a bit. I do think it’s particularly bad legislation. I also agree with Lath that it likely isn’t going to solve any of the problems that it’s attempt to resolve.

    People will still find other venues for pornography, or uncouth cinematic works. And frankly, if the goverrnment dictates what their consituents see aren’t they making an attempt to shape the views and thoughts of those people? That just seems…well, wrong :(

    Good Luck to you guys as this comes closer to a reality.
    .-= Beruthiel’s last blog … You Asked, I Answered pt 2! =-.

  12. Drakolich - MalorneNo Gravatar says

    This is 100% an infringement of your right to live your life how you choose. There is nothing good that can come from this. The fact they can even get this through makes me crazy. As Lath so rightfully mention, you can not get away from market economics. People we buy or obtain the things that they want no matter what the government tries to do. The only difference is that they are raising the price.

  13. AnalogueNo Gravatar says

    Very very disturbing. I hate anything that invokes the “for the children” clause. My child is my responsibility and my husband’s, not anyone else’s, especially not the government. When she is internet age we will secure the content she may access. Maybe other people lack the technical knowhow to do this. Sorry, sounds like a great business opportunity for private companies that want to write a really great filter for parents. Not the role of a government. But then I lean toward libertarian philosophy so I’m probably biased…

    Shudder, have they started rating books there yet?
    .-= Analogue’s last blog … Trust =-.

  14. ManbearcatNo Gravatar says

    As it stands, wow players using proxies will more than likely be unaffected by the filter seeing as they’ll be running on the encrypted traffc protocols and the filter can’t inspect the packets. Funnily enough that is the method used by most people in the trade of certain types of rc material which said filter is supposed to be protecting us against. Lastly it’s also the method for which a lot of people in the know will be using to cirCumvent the filter to view the Internet in all it’s unfiltered glory. We’re looking at a new age of personal encryption. Rather than just people with somehing to hide, it’ll be an era of people hiding just to see something.

    For any typos blame the iPhone

  15. ManbearcatNo Gravatar says

    Oh and papa, th government has had a free downladable net filter for parents for many years now. A 15 year old managed to bypass it over the course of a couple of hours a few years back. During a discussion program wih Stephen conroy last year he was questioned over it and the proposed filter and stated that it would only take about 5 minutes to bypass the new mandatory filter

  16. JokeyRhymeNo Gravatar says

    The article mentions that both Labor and the Coalition are backing this plan but I’ve heard differently (unconfirmed sources disclaimer goes here). :)

    Apparently the Liberals spent $100 million trying to get this filter up and running a few years back and eventually discovered that it was infeasible. A filter that would be acceptable by the Australian public would have too little impact on illegal Internet activity. Shame the Labor guys were too fool-hardy to come to a similar conclusion.

    Child-pornography is evil, but I can’t help but wish all this money was being given to law enforcement agencies to help combat it directly. Labor’s scheme is a lie: the Internet will not be safer for your children, good parents will still be required to do as much good parenting as they currently do.

    The video games rating problems are all a lie as well. I was watching my housemate play the latest Aliens vs Predator game and I would consider it an R18+ game. So did the censors at first, and then they dropped it to an M without any changes made by the developer. How exactly can parents trust the rating system when it lacks the categories required to inform adults and parents?

    I hear ICANN is bringing up discussions for a .xxx zone again. Last time it was knocked back by the same creepy and stupid religious folk who have no idea what they are talking about. Just think how easy it would be to filter out all the porn on the Internet if it was all in the same red-light district…
    .-= JokeyRhyme’s last blog … Brief WoW-Hiatus =-.

    • CassandriNo Gravatar says

      @Jokey Liberals claim that they oppose the ISP filter 100% right now, but they were responsible for the early stages of this legislation when they were in power. I’ve heard similar stories about games being granted an MA rating when they really ought to be for 18+, but the classifications office either has to stick them incorrectly on the MA rating or reject them from sale in Australia altogether.

  17. How I wish they expand in different countries not just in Australia.

    Regarding on the violence and pornography thing.. you can’t filter sites, still the parent’s patronage and guidance needs to apply if you want to protect those young children.

  18. ChaousNo Gravatar says

    I feel bad for you players in the AU. We have a few in our guild, and not only is the latency an issue but net data caps across all ISPs. We’ve had some guildies have to drop a raid right in the middle because they hit their cap and every fight was causing a disconnect.

    I really hope this sort of thing does not become an international standard. I know the international community has been criticizing china for its Great Firewall of China for years, wonder if AU will come under the same scrutiny. Will be interesting to see if the complaints against china have been biased because of their form of government.
    .-= Chaous’s last blog … Alright so I fail. =-.

  19. gravityNo Gravatar says

    Remarkable. I’m Aussie too. If I could vote for the party which would reduce my ping to WoW by a say 50ms they’d get my vote. What’s being talked about here is the opposite. Sad.

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