Building trust in the digital era is the main challenge to innovation

Trust in the digital era is at a dangerously low level. We only have to look back to the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal as, perhaps, the pinnacle of this mistrust — the moment that organisations realised, something needs to change… the cat is out of the bag.

There is an inherent distrust from the wider public about data collection, data sharing, spying, security and even, the democratic process — rigging votes during elections, for example. All of this, spun together by instant news (some fake), is hindering innovation. People are wary of digital products and believe, quite rightly, that cumbersome regulations don’t reflect the connected era we find ourselves in.

Regulations, such as GDPR, have gone some way to allaying data protection concerns — it was certainly a step in the right direction. But, how many are enforcing it and at what cost to innovation and general business has this and similar regulations had on organisations? It has had a huge impact.

As tech advances, there needs to be a balance between rushing into a regulation and going at a snails pace.

Innovation vs the status quo

Society has to be stable in order to progress. Progress comes from innovation, but this is stifled by those trying to maintain the status quo.

The speed of change is also challenging society’s ability to accommodate this innovation — and is a reason for a lack of trust regarding the digital.

We’re in a unique period: where discussions should centre on what computers should do, not what they can do — this is important for trust

Trust in the digital is difficult, because many of the products coming into the market (both B2C and B2B) are entirely new. These innovations are growing at an exponential rate and as a result, regulations — traditionally slow moving — can’t catch up.

How can the public and private sectors address this seeming oxymoron? Open dialogue between all the players or stakeholders is crucial — enterprise, government, regulators, startups and even, the public. By working together, these bodies can begin to handle new innovations.

Why digital trust matters in the IoT

As IoT adoption continues to rise, business success in the world of connected devices depends on building digital trust with consumers


Self-regulation has often been touted as a potential solution. Compared to government, companies can change their regulation fast. Moving forward, governmental law should reduce to a basic, fundamental regulation — an overview whereby organisations adhere to a general principle — and the rest decided by the companies, because they then can react very fast to innovation.

Europe, for example, has built up voluntary trusted cloud programme, which fulfils both state and regulatory requirements — for cloud computing.

Building trust in the digital era: voluntary regulation powered by stakeholder approach?

But… there’s always a but. Organisations have an incredibly lucrative incentive to talk themselves up as a centre of trust. And, is the above solution adequate for trust — a thin layer of government regulation combined with organisation deciding their own ethical level?

Transparency and control

Instead, some ascribe to the view that trust should move away from a relation-based ecosystem to an amorphous, technological interaction.

Organisations and governments can build trust in the digital through transparency and control — understanding how a product or innovation works. There should be more information and access to meet consumer expectations.

There should be an interrelation with regulations and consumers: a multi-stakeholder process that’s principled so they can innovate as well as look after consumer interests.

How do we deal with the specific issues tech will bring: combined regulator and industry — move forward in a cautious way?

Dispelling myths around AI: central for trust

Artificial intelligence, arguably, is the technology that’s least trusted — perhaps this has something to do with popular fiction and the film industry: 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Terminator spring to mind.

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However, others ascribe another reason for the mistrust of AI. It is generally perceived as a game changing technology — which it is — that has no limits. Industry needs to be  upfront about limitations — again, this comes down to communication.

Perhaps, organisations should be more transparent about the AI algorithm they are developing, but any more than that will hinder innovation. It will complicate it.

More regulation is needed, but it must allow for innovation – sector-based, rather than tech based?

Build trust and maintain it

It’s different to build trust and then maintain it – sustainable trust: privacy, compliance and transparency.

Compliance is constantly changing, not dissimilar to the commercial market. As such, governments needs to be flexible, not static – a foundation should be regulated to prevent race to the bottom. More regulation by use case, maybe?

Create clear laws, rather than ambiguity, with more regulation where it makes sense

Sector-specific regulation with technology

Another solution to building trust in the digital, could be to have sector-specific regulation, rather than technology-specific regulation — fairness and privacy requirements under AI in healthcare, for example.

Fairness should be viewed in the same light as privacy and security.

If this is the right way to move forward, it will be necessary to communicate how this technology will directly benefit user. This will help with trust – use cases that impact social perception.

Instead of showing only the risks of technology, the state should show the potential of new technologies.

Education is so important, and organisations and governments should make it a priority to let people understand the pros and cons of certain technologies in a neutral way.

The IMDA: two years on — “trust and innovation are two sides of the same coin”

Following the inception of the Singapore government’s IMDA department two and a half years ago, it’s chief executive believes trust and innovation go hand-in-hand. Read here

Trust in the digital

The process to build trust should start with the integration of all stakeholders – the opinions from everyone is almost more important than the result.

The question of how do we appropriate innovation to the generate public trust is a question now on the minds of most public and private sector organisations. Without trust, innovation stumbles.

This is not an easy mission and it will take a long time to develop deep trust.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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