What steps can we take to rebuild our trust in technology?

Over the last few years, we have seen many ideas go from science fiction to reality. Books, movies, and even the Jetsons cartoon promised a world dominated by tech. In 1965, James Bond evaded attackers by flying into the air using a rocket belt. Decades later, Bill Suitor soared into the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics on a jetpack. But flying cars, jetpacks, and hoverboards remain a long way from flying off the shelves.

The good news is that technology is helping to reduce our carbon footprint, increase sustainability and adopt a more hybrid approach to work. As emerging technologies converge, we are beginning to think bigger and explore the art of the possible. Here in 2021, Elon Musk is on a mission to colonize Mars. Elsewhere, NVIDIA's Jensen Huang is creating a virtual copy of the Earth and building the metaverse.

Digital trust issues

However, our heavy reliance on digital platforms and emerging technologies that we don't fully understand has taken its toll on our digital trust. A handful of tech companies infamously track our activity offline and online. Our self-made echo chambers feed us information to strengthen rather than challenge our worldview. The illusion of choice has left many feeling like they are living in a real-life version of The Truman Show.

There are also increasing concerns around data privacy and the impacts that automated decision-making will have on society. The rise in workplace surveillance combined with governments investing in private messaging apps made many ponder where our obsession with tech is taking us. Authorities can monitor our browsing history and track our movements with facial recognition technology. The high-tech lifestyle in The Jetsons is beginning to feel more like a dystopian nightmare than the idyllic tech utopia we were promised.

"We wanted flying cars. Instead, we got 140 characters"

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel

By moving faster than regulators could keep up, a lack of regulations around how personal information is used, stored, and leveraged paved the way for where we are now. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, our trust in tech has hit an all-time low. The report revealed that trust in emerging technologies such as AI, VR, 5G, and IoT has decreased, in the massive survey across 27 countries.

The epiphany that self-serving big tech is not necessarily acting in their best interests has left many feeling powerless. But millions are beginning to turn their back on Facebook and Twitter. The demise of third-party cookies and Apple's increased privacy settings suggests the winds of change are already blowing through the world of tech. 

Many are just beginning to understand the actual cost of sacrificing privacy for convenience and instant gratification. But technology is just a tool and not the bad guy. We need to trust in people and the companies they run to leverage technology to build a more inclusive world. To achieve this goal, the industry desperately needs to rebuild trust with the audiences that they serve.

Rebuilding digital trust in tech

Tech companies proudly raced ahead with an irresponsible motto of “move fast and break things.” Building a digital future on the foundational principle of asking for forgiveness, not permission, got us where we are today. Although our utopian optimism has taken a few hard knocks in recent years, new start-ups have learned a few lessons from the irresponsible actions of those that came before them.

Tech giant Apple has also released iOS version 14.5 for its smartphones and tablets, which is widely seen as a significant change in direction and support for digital privacy. The update provides users with better controls and more transparency over what every app is doing. Equally, Google is removing third-party cookies from its Chrome Browser. But big tech's virtue-signalling will have casualties, most notably Facebook.

If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform.

Tim Cook

Apple fired the first shots by proudly declaring itself a privacy-first company. But these positive changes from Google and Apple will also hurt marketers and mobile game developers who rely on cookies and the ability to track users. Apple makes money from selling devices, subscription services, and in-app purchases. It does not need to harvest its customers' data for advertising purposes.

The privacy standards implemented by tech behemoths that make money in other ways are arguably a cynical move to strengthen their position. However, it is people who will drive positive action and restore our collective faith in tech-based solutions. If big tech genuinely wants to rewrite this narrative, they will need to proactively lead change through transparency, integrity, and kindness rather than arrogance.

For these reasons alone, I am happy to replace my dreams of jetpacks and hoverboards with greater accessibility, usability, and inclusion to rebuild the web so that it works for everyone.

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