Emerging Technologies

User choice: the simple solution to the tech trust crisis

A German surgeon bags up a tablet computer used to help with liver surgery

A German surgeon bags up a tablet computer used to help with liver surgery. Image: REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

John Chen
Executive Chairman and CEO, BlackBerry Ltd
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Emerging Technologies

As the internet of things sits on the brink of revolutionizing how we live and work, the world is facing a trust crisis. The blame is all too easily placed on bad actors, such as hackers; however, the truth is this is a crisis that must be borne by institutional leaders.

First, let’s consider the meaning of trust in the context of technology. Trust in the connected world is built on two things: security and privacy. Can we as individuals trust that the device we are using – whether a smartphone, a smart home appliance or a connected car – is truly secure? Do we have any confidence that our personal data is not being used or sold without our consent?

Many leaders, namely CEOs and government officials, are participating in the rhetoric on security and privacy. The conversation is more common than ever before, and there are even conferences dedicated to discussing the problem and possible solutions. Trust, though, is not built by talk. Trust is based on evidence, evidence that comes together to form trustworthiness.

The answer to the crisis is a simple one. We must own our individual data and be given the transparent choice to monetize or otherwise leverage it. The problem only becomes complex when organizations put profits before ethics.

Governments can enable the solution as they have the authority to put legislation in place that sets the ownership of personal data in the individual’s hands. To meaningfully address the issue, the legislation must proactively protect personal data and not just reactively enforce penalties on organizations when data is comprised.

It is the economic, social and ethical responsibility of technology leaders to build security and privacy into their products by design. The ask is not a big one. First, build products that have security ingrained in each layer of the product and commit to no backdoors. Second, respect that an individual’s personal data is theirs and do not profit from the data or use it without their consent, which must be transparently obtained.

Today, many players in the technology industry associate data with profits and may need to reimagine their business models without it. In actuality, sustainable value is mutual, between the industry and end users, and is enabled by trust. It is well-noted that there is a very strong positive relationship between trust and GDP, and it is natural to assume this correlation will only grow.

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The benefits of being increasingly connected are vast, from improving the detection and treatment of disease, to enabling developing countries to grow, and many more applications that have not yet even been explored or defined. Leaders have a responsibility to build credible trust between technology and people for this potential to be realized.

The technology sector knows there is great power in simplicity. Let us apply the same standard of simplicity to data privacy.

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