The Tricky Issue of Data Privacy and Trust, Stephen Scheeler, Former CEO ANZ, Facebook; Founder, The Digital CEO and Chairperson, CEBIT Australia

Stephen Scheeler CEBIT Australia copyTrust in the digital era is currently a big topic given that it’s a very human emotion. How the issue of trust will evolve as technology advances is still very much an unknown. 

So far, trust has kind of blindsided the technology industry and we’re still finding our way with it. When I was working at Facebook’s US headquarters in the early years, there was a sort of a belief in the “unambiguous goodness of technology”. It was strongly felt that Facebook was going to make democracy better, connect more people, and give them more opportunity to share the good bits about their lives. The issue of trust and privacy was really an afterthought – if that - to be dealt with at some unspecified later date.

When digital trust gets messy

However quite quickly things started to fall apart a bit where trust was concerned. People started saying that Facebook couldn’t be trusted. People suddenly started questioning what Facebook was doing with their data. Then they started questioning whether Amazon was “listening to their conversations” and wondering if AI at some point was going to turn against them.

The issue of how humans interact with non-humans of the world, and how much of our lives are increasingly at the mercy of computers and mysterious systems, started to get murky. However, on the positive, I think what this introspection has done is brought to life essential debates that the tech industry should have paid more attention to in the early days.

The problem with rules

The obvious way to rectify this situation would be for countries to devise new sets of rules to be devised and agreed upon to put more protection into place. However, what those rules should constitute and whether they apply to everyone or not is a grey area. What if we in Australia decide to put restrictions on people’s data but businesses in China don’t do the same? That could actually work against us and prompt Chinese companies to devise more innovative, powerful business models which supersede our own.

The other complicating factor is that policy makers would need to think as far ahead as possible and almost try to foresee the future, and not just think about short term measures. Anything that’s decided on “for now” could in fact have dire consequences down the track and result in a lot of wrong decisions. A country as big as China, if they don’t adhere to the same rules, may rocket ahead with a 10-year head start on artificial intelligence and other countries will never be able to catch up to that.

The future of privacy in a public world

So, what does this all mean for you sitting at home? One thing I think may happen is that the more money you can spend, the more you may be able to sign up to systems and programs that protect your privacy more. I’ve said previously that I believe the next big thing in tech will be “personal virtual assistants” – systems which will do whatever you require them to do online including managing and protecting your digital footprint.

So, in a sense the less affluent you are, the more you may end up exposed if you can’t afford to pay for such a thing. How that will all affect how businesses target customers is anyone’s guess. It’s still all very much up in the air. I don’t think we have enough information on tightening consumer data privacy laws to understand the implications just yet. Let’s see what happens next.

The NSW Government is proud to be the Official Partner of CEBIT Australia 2019.