‘For all our sakes, building digital trust had better be the technology trend of the 2020s’

Context

The Coronavirus pandemic has driven life ‘online’. In this situation, where this online trend may never return, trust is a significant differentiator.

In this emerging scenario, the defining aspect of technology and innovation is not an algorithm or an invention, it is digital trust.

Background

  • As the world grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic, digital trusthas become pivotal in the new changing world order.
  • The current pandemic has served as rocket fuel for organisations aspiring to achieve rapid scale and velocity on digital transformation.
  • It has accelerated the shift of off-line processes to on-line across the spectrum of the organisation’s functions, whether they are government, corporate, or non-profit organisations.
  • Consequently, the sector has witnessed a drastic increase in the generation of data and information during the pandemic period.
  • The use of digital technology during the COVID-19 crisis offers clear lessons:
    • focus on the safety of essential organizations
    • protect work-from-home capabilities
    • target mistrust broadly to enable specific crisis-relevant tech
  • However, in the long-run, plans to “re-build” post-pandemic using digital tools, risk falling at the very first hurdle ‘digital mistrust’.
  • The ‘Great Reset’ will require digital trust, whose foundations are ‘security’ and ‘responsibility’.

Analysis

The open question of ‘digital mistrust’

  • The most important trend for the next decade will be digital trust.
  • More innovative technologies, being implemented at an ever-fast pace, will be the norm for the next several years and possibly for our lifetimes. This is near inevitable.
  • The open question is whether all these technologies will be deployed responsibly and whether leaders and innovators have the courage and foresight to build security, equality, and responsibility into the new technological world.
  • The technological inclination of the next decade had better be towards digital trust, otherwise, the future will be in dark state.
  • The following changes will build on each other to create a world that looks more like science fiction than our history.
    • As more powerful AI and machine learning tools become more widely available
    • As improved robotics replace and augment human work
    • As scientists continue to unlock the power of biology, chemistry and physics to shape the world.
  • The above changes, seemingly combined into an all-encompassing phenomenon sometimes called the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” represent a destabilising force on societies and economies.
  • From businessto social interactions, from our psychology to international relations, no one has escaped this impact.
  • Even democracyitself may become destabilised by our new technologies.
  • As we stand on the threshold of a new decade, we worry that all this innovation may be causing more harm than good — exacerbating inequality, fomenting conflict, and concentrating powerinto fewer and fewer hands.
  • Drawing a line from the near past highlights a disturbing trend ahead, unless we make it a priority to use technology responsibly to build a better world.

The concept of digital trust

  • Digital Trust is a concept that refers to the level of confidence that customers, business partners and employees have in a company or organization's ability to maintain secure networks, systems and infrastructures, especially with regard to their sensitive data. 

What are the risks that can destroy trust?

In the digital age, analyzing and acting on insights from data can introduce entirely new classes of risk. These include:

  • unethical or even illegal use of insights
  • lackluster ethical data practices
  • amplifying biases that exacerbate issues of social and economic justice
  • using data for purposes to which its original disclosers would not have agreed, and without their consent

What factors influence Digital Trust?

There are the following parameters that impact Digital Trust:

  • Data breaches: Major attacks on utilities, state-sponsored data breaches have become one of the significant pain points for the Indian government and companies.
  • Lack of standards: The issue is further compounded by the fact that the country does not have any standards to secure the internet of things and connected ecosystems. There are no baseline tests to certify such products.
  • Threat to privacy: Using big data to predict behaviour and profile individuals offers obvious business benefits. But these techniques can cross the line when it comes to individual rights and privacy.
  • Cyber-attacks: Cybercrime rates are increasing globally, and individuals are putting more focus on how their personal information are being handled and secured.
  • Ethics and control: Digital trust issues centre around the ethics and control of data access and use, interaction through the Internet, digital risk resilience and value creation in the digital age. 
  • Monopolistic approach: Digital companies are gathering huge data and at times, emerging as a kind of monopolies that affect other competitors.
  • Other major challenges include:
    • Fake news on social media
    • lack of testing framework
    • absence of end-to-end solution testing
    • need for IoT SoC
    • lack of skill in IoT

Digital Intelligence Index

Digital Intelligence Index charts the progress countries have made in advancing their digital economies, fostering trust and integrating connectivity into the lives of billions. Mapping 95% of the world’s online population and drawing on 12 years of data, the index found:

  • Stand Out economies – Singapore, United States, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Estonia, UAE, Israel, Czech Republic, Malaysia, Lithuania and Qatar – are both highly digitally advanced and exhibit high momentum.
    • They are leaders in driving innovation, building on their existing advantages in efficient and effective ways.
  • Stall Out economies – such as Sweden, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Japan and Canada – are mature digital economies with a high state of digital adoption despite slowing digital momentum.
    • They tend to trade off speed for sustainability and are typically invested in expanding digital inclusion and building robust institutions.
  • Break Out economies – such as China, India, Indonesia, Poland and Russia – are evolving rapidly.
    • With such momentum and significant headroom for growth, they are often highly attractive to investors.
  • Watch Out economies – such as Nigeria, Uganda, Colombia, Peru, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – have a number of infrastructure gaps.
    • Despite this, young people are showing enthusiasm for a digital future with increased use of social media and mobile payments.

 Assessing the role of the State (Organizations/ Regulators/Government)

  • Organizations
  • Building confidence: An active and inclusive culture of data sharing between governments, tech giants, start-ups and consumers is critical for innovation.
    • Digital trust is the necessary foundation to this end.
    • In their management of data and development of AI, organisations should strive to build confidence with consumers beyond merely complying with applicable standards.
  • Regulators/Policymakers
  • Balanced regulatory interventions: Policymakers have the power and responsibility to facilitate this process of confidence building. But the task is not easy.
    • Regulatory intervention needs to be balanced so that it does not stifle innovation and adoption.
    • At the same time, it must give clear, consistent and flexible guidance on how to develop and use trustworthy, safe and accountable technology. 
  • Government
  • New and effective policies: First and foremost, the state is tasked with creating new policies for the digital age and aligning digital initiatives with national development strategy.
  • Research & Development: The Government must support R&D and play an entrepreneurial role in researching and testing promising new digital platforms and technologies.
  • Inclusive and affordable internet: The Government should work to extend the backbone telecommunications infrastructure and securing access to an inclusive and affordable internet.
  • Investment: Furthermore, investing in human and organizational complements and institutional learning across all sectors will help to secure digital dividends and inclusion.
  • Transformation through collaboration: Governments need to take a holistic view of national digital transformation and deal with digital transformation as a highly interactive ecosystem, requiring shared vision, agile strategies, sustained commitment, and institutionalized collaboration.
  • Human capital: Skilled human resources are at the heart of the digital revolution.

Recent government initiatives to enhance digital ecosystem

  • Comprehensive policy: With an eye on further empowering the nation's growing digital economy, the Government of India introduced the National Policy on Electronics (NPE) and the National Policy on Software Products (NPSP).
    • These policies aim to build a comprehensive digital manufacturing and research and development (R&D) ecosystem, and are intended to complement efforts already underway to improve digital literacy and infrastructure under the "Digital India"
  • Connectivity: Another initiative, the BharatNet project, aims for 100 percent internet connectivity.
  • Digital literacy: India is looking to extend digital literacy to 60 million rural people by March 2020. As more people come online, tools such as JAM Trinity, a union of Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile number will better contribute to nation-building and overall economic progress.

Ban to preserve State’s security

  • In June 2020, the government put a ban on 59 apps including TikTok and WeChat.
    • These measures have been undertaken since there is credible information that these apps are engaged in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.
    • The decision has been taken in a bid to safeguard the interests of crores of Indian mobile users.

How to solidify trust in the digital ecosystem (Guiding Principles)?

  • Integration: The process to build trust should start with the integration of all stakeholders. Everyone’s opinion is almost more important than the result.
  • Transparency and control: Digital trust can be built through transparency and control. Government and organization need people to understand how a product or innovation works. There should be more information and access to meet expectations.
  • Easy to use experience: An easy-to-use experience that conveys a sense of security will build a much deeper natural commitment to building digital trust.
  • Integrated approach: The digital trust framework should take an integrated approach i.e. combining data discovery and protection, cloud-based access management, authentication, risk management, AI-based fraud detection, and global threat intelligence.
    • It will ensure that the robustness of the security protocol so that it is not overwhelming for the user, while at the same time establishing a sense of trust.
  • Sense of security: Without security, sustainable technological progress cannot be achieved because new technologies will increasingly be rejected by an ever-more-paranoid population — and rightfully so. This will require:
    • new ways of planningfor cyber resilience
    • new visions for leadership
    • new mechanismsfor cooperation
  • Common standards and procedure: Trust decisions among digital ecosystem partners must be supported by a common language and standards for information, capabilities and open application program interfaces (APIs).
  • Balancing the privacy: Balancing the privacy of individuals’ and organizations’ information with the ability to use the information to develop better products, services and experiences for customers is key to creating long-term, mutually beneficial, sustainable trust relationships among all the members of a digital ecosystem. 
  • Blockchain: Investments are on rise in Blockchain to get future-ready. Blockchain could be a game-changer for the world - what the internet did for information world a few decades back, is what Blockchain is going to do for transparency and trust.
  • Education and awareness: Education is so important, and governments should make it a priority to let people understand the pros and cons of certain technologies in a neutral way.

How ‘Empathy’ is at the core of trust delivery?

  • Digital trust is a moving target, like any other strategic business goal. No organization can rely on stagnant strategies to grow profitability or address risks.
  • To build lasting customer relationships, organizations must understand that trust is a dynamic pursuit that requires agility.
  • Empathy towards the customer is at the core of trust delivery. As customer attitudes about privacy and behaviors shift, enterprise practices and technology must keep up with evolving data privacy threats, compliance requirements and client behaviors.
  • The importance of trust is unlikely to diminish, but delivering trust-inspiring customer experiences requires a culture of design thinking, continuous improvement and security by default.

Why ethical commitment is essential?

  • The pandemic and recent major societal movements related to human dignity, diversity and inclusion have accelerated the trend towards ethical practices also in technology use and development.
  • If the government wants to adopt the security-by-design principles in order to ensure continued innovation, it needs to commit to ethical and responsible use of technology.
  • The norms, values, and agreements that represent our social contracts and structures need to be instilled into new technologies as well. For example-
    • If artificial intelligence is used to discriminateagainst the poor or against ethnic or racial minorities, it does not matter how secure against outside intrusion it is.
    • Automation that turns workers out of their jobswithout a social safety net is likewise no positive innovation, regardless of how safe or efficient it is.
    • Data harvesting that eradicates individual privacy, whether to create new medicines or pad a social media company’s bottom line, is tempting a severe backlash.
  • If technology is to serve humankind, then it needs to be subject to human values and implemented to further our collective wellbeing or it can never be trusted.

The ethical questions

  • What methods were used to collect the data? Do collection methods align with best practices? Did data disclosers provide informed consent? What are the security risks with how the data is stored?
  • What are the classes of harm that a bad actor or group of actors could cause if the entire set of aggregated data sources or any related analysis?
  • What are the potential risks to the organization if a watchdog group have the access to private data?
  • What kind of data governance tools and solutions can help transform ethical principles into practice?

Conclusion

In the post-Covid 19 world, the use of data is going to be even more disruptive. While it is a challenge for organisations to keep pace with the volumes of data being generated, nevertheless, the focus should be on building trust and challenging within to get the right balance between societal trust and corporate profits. Future success will belong to the organisations that get this balance right. Without trust, innovation stumbles.

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