Everyone’s asking if we can trust tech. Nobody’s asking why we can’t.
But, scandals like these aren’t the only things attracting scrutiny in tech communities.
Since the end of 2017, blockchain technology has needed to defend itself from skeptics. Though the distributed ledger platform has nothing to do with criminal activity, blockchain still struggles to look favorable in the hearts and minds of many around the world.
From the first days of online banking to online purchasing and more, people just don’t seem to trust technology as much as they trust legacy institutions.
Case and point: the pieces of paper covering laptop camera lenses around your office or classroom.
The sense is that today, technology is being attacked and seen as untrustworthy more than ever.
Still, Microsoft and Google consistently rank in the top 10 most trustworthy companies in the world.
Whether or not we can trust technology is the wrong conversation.
It’s Nothing New
Let’s go back a bit and debunk myth number 1: today’s tech is more untrustworthy than it ever has been.
The reality is that this discussion didn’t start with Mark Zuckerberg, this decade, or even with the 21st century.
The WorldComm scandal came to a head in 2001.
The Dotcom Bubble? 1997–2001.
HP Spying? 2006.
For nearly the entire lifecycle of the world wide web, there have been issues with data privacy, cyber security, and investment busts. As with every industry, it’s had its share of hiccups. But, as with most industries, the web is becoming more secure with each passing day.
This is mostly because of the competitiveness and saturation of the online market. If you’re not offering an more innovative, more secure, and more intuitive product than another company, you’re not going to last long.
But, while security of the web is at an all-time high, the scrutiny around that security and trust seems lower and lower.
Maybe it’s like most things: the 24-hour news cycle has brought to light things we could’ve never noticed. Or, now that online technologies have progressed so far, we have the ability to highlight and address issues we couldn’t understand 20 years ago.
Regardless, the conversation isn’t new, and acting like it is a disservice to those working tirelessly innovating technology. Plus, it could stop it altogether.
Fear Stunts Innovation
In the bygone days of 2015, the Brookings Institute did a survey on what Americans are most afraid of. The list consisted of the usual: dying, ghosts, and other spooky things.
But, the top 8 all consisted of tech-related fears, including number 1, “cyberterrorism,” 2, “corporate tracking of personal information,” and interestingly, 8, “technology I don’t understand.”
Since then, technology has only gotten more complex, integrated, and entwined in our everyday lives.
People already fear change, and at the pace that technology is sprinting into the future, it’s no wonder some are a little skeptical. But, this fear has greater consequences than keeping them up at night.
As we’ve seen with blockchain technology, AI, and machine learning technologies, fear of misuse or misunderstanding the technology altogether leads to stifling regulations and government controls that stunt the ability to innovate and progress in these fields.
So, this mistrust and fear around the speed and pervasiveness of technology halts what could be important progressions in many fields. Driverless cars, robotic surgeries, and even wireless headphones are all technologies on the cusp of making real change in the world, but are being held back by fear.
But, the most interesting and ironic part of this conversation is that no other industry seems to get this kind of negative attention.
Now, that isn’t to say that some of it isn’t merited. Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, while unmalicious, took advantage of user trust in a way that is unacceptable in today’s digital spaces.
The point is, why don’t other industries see this kind of unwavering surveillance? And, if they do, why are people so quick to forgive?
Worthy of Forgiveness?
Google “Corporate Scandals.”
I know all your professors and high school teachers said to avoid Wikipedia at all costs, but check out their “List of corporate collapses and scandals.” Notice a pattern?
Only one of the entire list is a tech company, HP, referencing their spying scandal.
The majority of the list, in fact, consists of banking companies. No doubt the result of the 2008 global financial crisis. Even more interesting is that the first corporate scandal that the website considers is the Medici Bank in 1497.
Telecomms, insurance and real estate are also scattered amongst the list.
Interestingly enough, the majority of these companies are still in operation. Most notably ThyssonKrupp, a German steel and aluminum company that participated in arming Nazi Germany and supplies facilitating the Holocaust.
We’re in pretty depressing waters here so let’s take a break.
The majority of these companies not only survived, but have thrived since being outed.
For example, Volkswagen, after experiencing major scrutiny following the revelation of fraudulent measurements in emissions for their vehicles, has only grown.
In the past 10 years (2006 to 2017), Volkswagen’s worldwide vehicle production, sales, number of employees, and sales revenue have increased nearly each year.
Note: I didn’t purposely choose two German companies, they’re just some of the most well-known on this list.
I can list more: BP, Delta Airlines, McDonald’s, and Comcast. Need I go on?
Our capacity to deal out second chances is staggering. May web-based technologies simply haven’t had the luxury.
Ultimately, we’re having the wrong conversation.
We shouldn’t wonder whether or not we can trust technology. We should wonder why we can trust everyone, and everything, else.
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