Trust & Tech Giants: A Conundrum

Trust is a word becoming increasingly synonymous to technology lately. And it’s not just consumers that are becoming increasingly concerned. Fortune 500 companies from CPG goods to the entertainment industry rely on tech giants in social media to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies like Dropbox or Basecamp. Once corporate giants like these and consumers start ramping up their concerns, the tech giants will have a real problem on their hands.
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Just a week ago, Box CEO Aaron Levie said “The worst case scenario for us is that Silicon Valley gets so far behind on these issues that we just can’t be trusted as an industry.” That’s a canary in a coal mine kind of statement and he’s right.
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In January of this year I forecast that the biggest issues faced by tech giants and most any growing tech company won’t be technical, but rather societal and regulatory. This is certainly panning out with Facebook and their data breach and others. And talk of regulatory action in Washington is growing, as it is in the EU. The EU government is trying to bring in contentious copyright laws that would severely damage many technology companies. That is a case of over-regulation.
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The trust issues that Silicon Valley tech companies and other tech companies must deal with will include;
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  • Ethical use of predictive analytics
  • Ethical rules and practices for Artificial Intelligence (such as self-driving cars and human rights management.)
  • The deployment of robotics in industry and worker displacement
  • Security of personal data
  • Rules on third-party sales of data
  • Tracking of consumers online and profile building
There’s more, but you get the idea. Just a few weeks ago, an AI system fired a software developer. This shouldn’t happen. There will be more of these cases.
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What’s Changed? How Did We Get Here?
Less than a decade ago, most tech giants didn’t face these kinds of issues. What happened was the internet and the mad dash to get everything interconnected. It was the rise of API’s (Application Protocol Interfaces that enable various services to interconnect with each other), Big Data analytics tools and neural networks in AI. Rapid growth in mobile devices and the incredibly low cost of entry into hardware and software for consumers and industry.
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Put it all together and it’s the perfect storm for where we are today. In no small part driven by shareholders and investors all looking for the “unicorn” investment and opportunity. And startups and tech giants were more than happy to oblige. And consumers too loved it.
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Until the data breaches kept happening, an autonomous car killed someone and a guy got fired by an AI system. Many a tech company thinks in very binary terms. Regulations, social issues and laws are grey areas that don’t fit in well to tech company executive suites.
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What’s Next?
That’s for another article with some ideas on what could be done. But tech giants are talking about this and they know they have to deal with it. How well they do remains to be seen. Despite the data breaches and mess ups of Facebook, it’s stock price remains steady and consumers continue to use the platform. But there’s no guarantees.
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What are your thoughts?
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