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Trust and tech should go hand in hand: some thoughts following Cambridge Analytica whistleblower’s keynote at IP Expo



It was standing room only yesterday at Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower, Christopher Wiley’s, opening keynote at Manchester’s IP Expo. With hundreds of us watching through screens in overspill theatres, the attention the scandal is still attracting, over a year on, was apparent.

 

Christopher told the story which many of us know well, but it seemed more powerful hearing it directly from the horse’s mouth. At the centre of the scandal, farming the data of tens of millions of people – many of which without their consent – and then using this data to sway political campaigns and create online echo-chambers is clearly unethical. Yet it’s still happening and will continue to happen if businesses and governments allow it to.  

 

We’ve seen the revolt against tech giants start to pick up pace over the past few months, with the term ‘digital gangsters’ coming up again and again as a descriptor for these companies, so with cyberspace controlled by a small number of tech giants, is it time for tighter regulation of this? Christopher Wylie thought so, with one of his main points being that the internet is probably the only sector that doesn’t have to play by the rules like others do. Aviation firms need to prove that their new aircrafts work, and drug companies have to put each product through clinical trials – but what about tech companies / the internet? No such rules. This, when you consider that the internet is becoming increasingly difficult to manage without, is problematic.

 

That’s not to say that this won’t change in the future. The Cambridge Analytic scandal was a significant milestone in encouraging mass public discussion and debate on ethical standards for internet firms, social media companies, political organisations and politicians. Already we’ve seen calls for greater online protection and the right to privacy, as well as curbs on the spread of disinformation and fake news.

 

However, with China currently testing out a social scoring system, and major train stations and airports now testing biometrics like facial recognition, this wasn’t the first major scandal in information warfare, and it absolutely won’t be the last.

 

Tech giants now need to work even harder to win back that trust that has been eroded away with each scandal they have faced. Trust in tech companies is something I’ve spoken about before; it’s at an all-time low and won’t be easy to win back. To start with, I’d personally like to see:

 - Tech giants being accountable and owning up to mistakes – for real, in a way that doesn’t just feel obligatory

 - Firms using their power to create tech for good – it is being done but we need more of it! Consumers and businesses need to feel inspired and positive by tech and the opportunities it can afford

 - Being more transparent with users and losing the pages long T&Cs that most people HAVE to click anyway to simply use a webpage – instead, explaining these things in a simpler manner

 - Generally, do more to avoid unethical stuff happening – farming data without consent, allowing videos of mass murders to be live streamed on their platforms, enabling the inciting of hatred - full stop!

 

Regaining consumer trust won’t be easy, but with enough effort, could be done. I - as I’m sure anyone operating in the tech sector or with a vague interest in the matter will - will be following closely over the coming years. Technology has the potential to revolutionise how we work, live and play, but it can also be a very scary space.  

 

 

 

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