• Akhilesh Tuteja, Leadership |

Our seemingly endless reliance on the power of digital technology continues to transform everything from commerce, work and lifestyle to transportation, education, healthcare and beyond. In today’s hyperconnected world of modern, ever-evolving technologies, ‘digital trust’ is absolutely essential.

I define digital trust as society’s confidence in the ability of digital technology — and the organizations providing it — to protect the public interest. Digital trust demands appropriate security and governance frameworks plus the responsible, ethical use of tech and data. Digital trust considerations will form a growing part of the social and governance agendas within today’s Environmental, Social and Governance strategies.

Unfortunately, I’m witnessing a serious and troubling erosion of public trust in how corporates and governments are using and protecting personal data and how the modern technologies are being used to make decisions, which can have far reaching impact. The ‘trust deficit’ is real and rising, according to the World Economic Forum, citing lack of security, ethical lapses and inadequate transparency among today’s trust issues.

I commend the WEF’s Digital Trust initiative for its ongoing efforts to establish a global consensus among stakeholders on what digital trust means and what can be done to improve the trustworthiness of digital technologies.

As the WEF warns: “Declining trust, prompted by unease at the way some organizations are using digital technology, could undermine the societal benefits of digitalization.”

At the same time, I’m encouraged to see regulators taking a more broad-ranging view of privacy protection and the need to address the growing threat of cyber-attacks, while also exploring how to regulate a very different world of machine learning, artificial intelligence and the nascent metaverse.

As the pace of technological innovation accelerates and our dependency on digital systems grows, I believe that truly effective regulation now requires a complex balancing act that addresses societal concerns, corporate trust issues and the role of governments to drive progress.

Turning digital challenges into opportunities

The pressing need to solve today’s trust deficit presents a significant opportunity for businesses that are willing to move beyond simply obeying the (increasingly complex) ‘letter of the law’ on their use of technology and data. Businesses recognizing the opportunity before them can wisely promote the digital-trust agenda, seeking to demonstrate true accountability and transparency while linking public awareness and progress to their brands and reputations.

Providing new levels of transparency shall go far in enhancing trust if organizations can reliably and consistently articulate how they are responsibly gathering data and generating data-based decisions. This will also inspire confidence in the digital technologies we now rely on for every aspect of our lives, from medical devices which keep us alive to the infrastructure which runs our increasingly smart world.

An informed, proactive approach can pay significant dividends by differentiating companies in the eyes of today’s increasingly aware and activist global consumers. Forward-looking businesses that recognize the value of embarking on this journey to enhance digital trust can also position themselves to pre-empt issues with regulators. This means, of course, that organizations dedicate the resources needed to go beyond today’s regulatory requirements.

Let’s bring the power of social dialogue to life

Fostering informed public dialogue on the issue of digital trust is now indispensable in my view. Collectively, we need to bring to life, without delay, constructive social dialogue within an open public forum — no small challenge indeed.

It remains to be seen how the digital trust challenge can be met. Who will lead the charge in driving the required open forum on digital trust — consumers, corporates, regulators or governments? I’m seeing some leading global corporates stepping onto that path, much to their advantage in enhancing their brands while advocating for social responsibility regarding consumer data protection. Also, expect to see the development of new trust frameworks, certifications and rating services as governments, consumers and investors look for transparency and confidence in organizations’ approaches.

At the same time, I’m encouraged by the steps being taken through the WEF’s Digital Trust initiative. As the WEF tells us: “Digital Trust is a necessity in a global economy reliant on ever-increasing connectivity, data use and new innovative technologies. In order to be trustworthy, technology must be secure — ensuring connected systems’ confidentiality, integrity and availability — as well as responsibly used.”

I believe there’s no time to lose on this journey — and it will take all of us to collectively forge a promising new world of safe, reliable, trusted digital capabilities.

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