Introducing The Tech Policy Greenhouse: Let's Have Thoughtful Conversations About The Biggest Tech Policy Challenges
from the conversations-that-can-go-places dept
Today we’re introducing something very new: the Tech Policy Greenhouse. This is a project that I’ve been working on for about two years now, and I’m both thrilled and relieved to finally be getting it out the door. It starts from this basic premise: many of the biggest issues facing technology and innovation today are significant challenges that have no easy answer. Every possible approach or solution (including doing nothing at all) has tradeoffs. And yet very few people seem willing to admit that, as admitting to tradeoffs in policy proposals is seen as a sign of weakness or giving in. But the issues facing innovation policy today are too big and too important to not have a truly open discussion.
And having a truly open discussion about difficult policy questions means a lot more than the way the media has traditionally held these conversations: pitting two sides against one another and letting them argue it out. That rarely brings enlightenment, and mostly seems to just involve everyone digging in to their previously held beliefs. Having an open discussion about big challenges with no easy answers means being willing to dive deep into details, exploring ideas that might make you uncomfortable, and testing hypotheses that sometimes seem absurd on first glance — but then being open to the feedback, ideas, improvements, and critiques raised about the ideas.
The Tech Policy Greenhouse is an attempt to have those discussions. Think of it as something of an online symposium, where we will be bringing in a variety of experts to give their thoughts on these issues, but hopefully with the humility to recognize that what is being discussed is difficult, and understanding all of the variables at play is an impossibility. Part of this means that we’ll be publishing stories that challenge us — including some arguments that I personally disagree with — but which we believe are being presented in good faith and for the purpose of open discussion and debate, in the hopes that whatever future policy proposals and decisions are made, they are better informed by understanding a variety of points of view, a variety of proposals, and a variety of ideas about what might work.
This does not mean that the Tech Policy Greenhouse will or should be a clearing house for nonsense or half-baked ideas. There are certainly plenty of those. Instead, the goal is to get the best minds out there, willing to discuss difficult-to-impossible problems in a way that allows for greater understanding and greater humility about the eventual policy choices that are made.
To help with this project, we are pleased that we have help from two excellent editors, whose names should be well recognized around here: Karl Bode and Mike Godwin. Karl, of course, has long been a writer for Techdirt, as well as a number of other tech, telco, and policy publications — and has agreed to take on a more involved editorial role for Greenhouse. Godwin, of course, is so internet-famous that he has an entire “law” named after him. He was also the first lawyer EFF hired, as well as the General Counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation. His insights into all things related to tech policy are unmatched and always thought-provoking.
For readers of Techdirt, you will see the new Greenhouse posts directly in the main feed, though they will be visually distinct (you may notice they look a bit… greener). We will continue to post regular Techdirt posts and content in the regular format, but the green posts will be from various experts and will be based around a theme that we are exploring at the time. Our plan is to roll out a few themes each year (the exact pace we’ll figure out along the way). There is also now a Greenhouse tab at the top, if you want to see only the Greenhouse posts.
There is one other change regarding the Greenhouse posts. While they will have our regular comment area, there will also be a separate “Featured Discussion” area, in which those who are participating in the Techdirt Greenhouse project will be encouraged to comment and discuss the other posts in the series. This is very much an experiment that might not work, but we’re excited to test it out. If the panelist discussion is happening, you will see it between the post and the regular comment section.
Our inaugural topic is digital privacy, because we decided to jump right into the deep end of extremely important, but controversial, problems with no easy solutions. Karl will introduce the overall topic in another introductory post, followed by Godwin’s introduction regarding his thoughts on why the privacy debate needs to be reframed. And then, starting tomorrow and over the next few weeks, you’ll see a variety of Greenhouse posts from experts interspersed among the regular Techdirt content. We are also open to more such posts, so if you have expertise and would like to contribute, please feel free to contact us.
Also, I should address the elephant in the greenhouse: this project is currently sponsored by Google, Twitter, and Protocol Labs. For some, this will discredit the entire project. We set out to try to launch this project with only grants from foundations and without corporate sponsorship, but so far have not been able to find foundations willing to support it (if you know of any who might be interested, or if you happen to work for one, please also reach out and let us know). Given that unfortunate lack of interest from foundations so far, we were happy that these three companies were willing to step up and sponsor the launch of this effort which, again, is a few years in the making. From the beginning, we were upfront that the whole point of this project is to discuss challenging tech policy questions, and that if any company sponsored this project, they would probably disagree heavily with some of the content, but that we felt that enabling those open and thoughtful discussions was good for the future of innovation itself — and all three sponsors seemed to recognize the value of the conversations, even when some of the content might go against the company’s own interests (indeed, the interests of the three sponsors are not aligned with one another in many cases, and sometimes diametrically opposed).
Still, if this concerns you, I only ask that you judge the content on its own merits. The whole point of this project is to take us all out of our comfort zone. I hope that people everywhere, no matter how they feel about various tech policy questions, can at least recognize that thoughtful conversation and debate are important to coming up with better policy overall. I look forward to this inaugural discussion on privacy — and I hope everyone here will welcome it.