I was asked to contribute as a guest author to economist.com/debate on online privacy regulation, which I happily did. There are two kinds of learnings for me: the first is a matter of the subject, the second a matter of online debates.
Regarding the first issue, I have to admit that it seems I underestimated the mistrust in elected representatives compared to the mistrust in private companies, which are often not to be held accountable in any way as long as no privacy legislation gives you a right to hold them accountable. In Germany we mistrust the government a lot, but at least they are the elected untrustworthy. Since there is little reason to trust in binding corporate rules or other self-regulatory approaches for a whole and non-definable branch such as ‘all data processing and storing companies’ I don’t see the possibility of something like a third way besides privacy legislation and international cooperation on both the standards but in particular on the enforcement issue too.
The second issue is that I would really like to see the format of the Economist debate on German language newspaper or magazine websites as well. The only thing I am not that happy with yet is the voting system. The Economists question ‘agree with the motion’ is an invitation for campaigning (I’ve seen ‘click-no-campaigning’ on Twitter, and it was interesting to see that most of the written comments were mostly pro while the vote was very narrow in the end). The number of how many changed their minds on the issue during the debate is only visible as a mouseover – this could be enhanced, since convincing someone of a different opinion seems to be much more interesting than how many readers agree with the one or the other side of the fence in a non-representative way. Maybe there could be a change to the voting model that only on the first one or two days the voting is open and after that you are only allowed to change your opinion. This could help avoiding campaigning effects a little at least, I guess.