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Trust in tech has eroded: Here are 3 ways to rebuild it

Trust in tech: close-up image of male hands using mobile smartphone with icon graphic cyber security network of connected devices and personal data information

Here are 3 ways to restore trust in tech and create a digital economy that’s safer, smarter and more inclusive. Image: WEF/iStockphoto

Michael Miebach
CEO, Mastercard
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Tech and Innovation

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Distrust in tech has reached a critical level as headlines about data misuse, misinformation, spambots and more have proliferated.
  • Business leaders shouldn’t simply wait for new regulations before taking action – there’s a lot we can do today to restore trust in tech.
  • This includes above all making sure data generated about people is used first and foremost for their benefit with their privacy and security in mind.

Any time I use my phone, new data is created. The same is true whenever I glance at my smartwatch, when I travel to work, when I use a smart speaker to turn on the lights. Thousands of my actions create these thousands of data points every day. It’s the same for anyone using digital tools – including my friends, my neighbours and my kids.

And while more and more data is created every day and new technologies embed themselves deeper into our lives, there’s often been a lack of transparency on what information is being collected, what it’s being used for and how I can access it.

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Because of this, the trust people have in these technologies has eroded for years. That distrust has reached a critical level as headlines about data misuse, misinformation, spambots and more have proliferated.

If businesses don’t get a better handle on addressing this issue, people won’t want to adopt new technologies. And that would slow innovation and stifle the huge benefits we all stand to gain from the digital economy.

Building people's trust in tech

We all can push to create a digital economy that’s safer, smarter and more inclusive. Here are three ways to do it:

1. Stronger data privacy and protections

There’s a family safety app that’s been used by tens of millions of parents all over the world to keep track of their kids. An investigation in 2021 found that the app was selling its location data to about a dozen data brokers. The app responded by cutting back on those sales, but the damage was already done. Trust was lost.

This is just one example in the multibillion-dollar industry of monetizing people’s data. Constantly having to share your personal data shouldn't be the hidden price we all pay to participate in the digital world. Long, dense consent forms no one will read are part of the problem.

Businesses can step up by focusing on the basic principle that a person’s data belongs to them and should benefit them. Yes, it’s that simple. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation reinforces this point, stating that companies need to design their products to include strong privacy protections, more clearly state how people’s data is being handled and give people an opportunity to access and delete their data.

More companies around the world should adopt many of these principles. Your users will thank you.

2. A safer crypto ecosystem

You can’t talk about trust in tech without talking about trust in crypto. Before the FTX implosion, many people and financial institutions were already sceptical about the safety of cryptocurrencies. Now, the entire crypto industry is under even more scrutiny.

My company, like many others, believes that there’s great promise in blockchain technology to build more efficient financial instruments and payments systems. But none of it is possible without trust first.

Stronger regulations will go a long way to building that trust. Also, businesses need to partner more closely across crypto and traditional finance. Existing financial institutions and financial services companies are experts in risk management, anti-money laundering regulations and corporate governance protocols. Bringing more of that knowledge into crypto will provide much-needed standards and controls for the young industry.

3. Root out bias in AI

In 2016, ProPublica found that an algorithm used by US judges and parole officers was twice as likely to misclassify black defendants as being high risk for committing more crime than white defendants. The House of Lords in the UK and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination have raised similar concerns about AI in policing.

There are many hidden biases that seep into AI systems and can inflict real harm on people’s freedoms and livelihoods. Several studies claim AI can worsen social inequities for people when applying for loans or jobs and even when going to the doctor.

Business leaders shouldn’t simply wait for new regulations before taking action – there’s a lot we can do today. We need to be unrelenting in our efforts to root out bias in AI. The only way to do that is with research and testing, and to double down on transparency and accountability. Many companies are taking these steps and even more can be done by working together.


How is the Forum tackling global cybersecurity challenges?

When we’re all treated the same way by AI systems, that reinforces trust.

Trust is built by making a promise and delivering on it again and again.

The business world can rebuild trust in tech by focusing on exactly that. Making sure the data generated about people is used first and foremost for their benefit, with their privacy and security in mind. Creating data principles that are easy for people to understand and that more businesses will follow. Bringing standards to crypto. Weeding out bias in AI.

As both consumers of technology and as leaders, we owe it to ourselves and our customers to act.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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