31 months later: The Economist’s Debate on Privacy (DRAFT! Feedback welcome!)

DRAFT! Feedback welcome!
Revised version to be posted on Tales from the Net.

Economist Debates: Online Privacy.A debate between Marc Rotenberg of EPIC and Jim Harper of Cato, moderated by Martin Giles.  Because, y'know, who cares what women think?

In early returns 70% of the audience sides with Marc that governments should do far more to protect privacy but it’s far from over. The debate continues until September 2 with expert insight from Joseph Turow of the Annenberg School and Jules Polonetsky of The Future of Privacy Forum, rebuttals, and final statements.  Good stuff!

Gender, age, race, and power in online discusions, chapter n, from January 2008, calls out The Economist for a similar pattern in their first online debate.* This was one of the first stories we covered here on Tales from the Net, with a summary and links post and a passionate argument for the educational possibilities of social networking in Why I’m voting “pro”. Despite the bias to straight white guys, it was a great experience and vibrant debate: the “pro” side wroting their opening argument in Twitter (how cool is that?) and different perspectives in the blogosphere complemented the ones on The Economist‘s site.

And in his closing statement, the moderator said:

I also admired the interventions from JON PINCUS, who pointed out that supporters of the motion underestimated “the risks that the new technologies will in practice reinforce (rather than counter) existing negative biases and trends in the system”.

So 31 months later, let’s try this again, shall we?

<potentially quote from my Facebook profile — asking permission>

And it’s not just women who are currently being ignored. There aren’t any students, or seniors, or anybody who lives outside of the DC and Philadelphia area and it seems like a pretty white bunch to me.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re all extremely qualified to talk about this issue. Deborah and I have worked with Marc, Jim, and Jules on activism campaigns and organizing the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference, and have a lot of respect for all of them. Even when we disagree, they articulate their positions very well. But there are a lot of ways in which they are very similar, and so there are a lot of perspectives that are not being represented.

Still, it’s not too late.  New technologies can counter existing biases as well as reinforce them.  For example The Economist could easily invite some additional guests, or prominently feature supporting statements ‘pro’ and ‘con’ on their sites. Just off the top of my head I have to believe that people like Canadian Privacy Commissioners Jennifer Stoddart and Ann Cavoukian, German Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner, Fran Maier of TRUSTe, James Rucker of Color of Change, David Drummond of Google, any of the DREAM Activists, and of course danah boyd (who coincidentally enough just blogged about Regulating the Use of Social Media Data) could add a lot to the discussion, and I’m sure there are plenty of others as well. Or maybe they’ll have a followon “no older white guys allowed” debate and see if it comes out differently.

Wouldn’t want to rely on it, though. And in any case, The Economist‘s site is still as difficult to use for a conversation as it was 31 months ago. So let’s use some other new technologies to have parallel discussions in a more friendly and diverse environment … like Twitter and Facebook!

Here’s how you can join in:

  • on Facebook, you can either answer the Question, or join in on the discussion thread on the Economist’s page.  TODO: ask question, post on Economist’s page
  • on Twitter, tweet your comments to what hashtag?

If you’re not on either of those sites, or you’ve got more to say than will fit in 140 characters, drop it in the comments here — or blog about it yourself, leave the link here, and somebody will tweet it.

All of the participants are on Twitter so with any luck they’ll join us as well.  Whether or not you’ve got Facebook or Twitter accounts, you can follow the discussions here and here.

TODO: include screen capture of dotRights tweet here and maybe one or two others

And while you’re at it, get involved in the discussion on The Economist‘s site too.  And stay tuned for the rebuttals, closing arguments and final voting.


* Alas the site’s no longer available, but our summary and link post here has excerpts from Ewan McIntosh (pro), Michael Bugeja (con), Parry Aftab (guest), and danah boyd (whose posts shaped the debate even though she wasn’t an official participant), as well as links to posts including Vicki Davis on Cool Cat Teacher (which includes a lot of detail on the ways she uses Ning), Ira Socol on SpeEdChange, danah’s classic Let’s define our terms, and many others. Michael, Vicki, and Ira Why I’m voting “pro”