4IR's Missing Ingredient is Trust

One thing has become glaringly clear around the world over the last year: Trust is in short supply.

By Xische Editorial, January 29, 2018

Source: Faber14/ Shutterstock

Source: Faber14/Shutterstock

One thing has become glaringly clear around the world over the last year: Trust is in short supply. This is especially true for the once high-flying technology sector. After an avalanche of bad news about Facebook in 2018 (with more continuing to come), consumers around the world are asking serious questions about how they interact with the internet, technology, and the marketplace.

That is because trust is the ultimate currency in today’s business and political climate. While governments have traditionally been the arbiter of trust, the rise of populist movements reveals the deep level of societal discontent. In essence, people are losing trust in just about everything.

US President Donald Trump’s remarkable rise to presidency was paved by this phenomenon. With his calls to end trade agreements that dissolve American jobs and promises to “drain the swamp” of Washington politics, Mr Trump’s pleas to the American people were essentially based on earning their trust. Whether he achieved this promise is beyond the purview of this argument. Suffice it to say, however, many people around the world feel as though their trust has been eroded by their government and a new wave of politicians are resorting to inflammatory rhetoric in an attempt to earn the trust of voters.

The business world has a natural entry point into this conversation but as the many Facebook scandals over the last year have shown, trust takes work. Serious work. This is all the more difficult for the technology sector.  With so many promising innovations on the horizon from leaps in artificial intelligence (AI) to the incorporation of blockchain technology in our everyday lives, the technology sector should be at the forefront of building trust in society. Yet, people are more skeptical than ever.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Technology companies working in co-operation with governments can forge a path to ethical technology and restore much of the trust that has been washed away from years of scandal. This is how it happens:

 First and foremost, technology companies need to rethink their approach to the internet, and connectivity in general. They need to invest in the infrastructure that makes the internet safe and secure. From better security protocols on simple websites to awareness campaigns about the value and use of data, our basic relationship to technology has changed remarkably in the last decade. It is time we were encouraged to take a step back and consider how technology fits into our lives. Technology companies have an interest in helping users understand the shifts taking place in technological landscapes. Governments can support and encourage this process.

Social media companies, in particular, must adopt a position of greater transparency in how they handle user data. The Facebook scandals have demonstrated that users care about their data and are now taking active measures to protect themselves. Some companies have used this shift to their advantage. Apple, although not immune to privacy snafus itself, has been on the forefront of marketing its strong commitment to data protection in the wake of the myriad data scandals last year.

These are only the first steps that can be taken in the short term. The European Union (EU), through its GDPR legislation, is already attempting to force the technology sector to conform to its belief of how trust should be built on the internet. While flawed, the EU is taking an active role  in establishing and meditating trust between tech and individuals. Instead of a knee-jerk reactions to regulation, technology companies should embrace this development and work with governments to establish best practices.

The trust issues described above shouldn’t be cause for concern. Rather, they present a profound opportunity to reorient how society operates on a individual level. While Facebook’s “move fast and break things” approach might have worked for the technology sector 10 years, it is no longer concurrent with the reality of data hacks and privacy concerns. But all disruptive technologies go through similar phases of exuberance only to mature into the fabric of daily life. As this transition unfolds in real time, it is a perfect opportunity for the public and private sector to move closer together and establish the new guidelines of our digital life. As long as trust is the bedrock of this new playing field, individuals and societies will flourish and business will find the right environment to grow.