Last week, Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society convened a conversation between Professor Jonathan Zittrain and Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith to discuss “Privacy, Surveillance, and Rebuilding Trust in Tech”. I could not be more pleased with the observations offered in their dialogue. According to two media articles tracking the event, Smith reported a “double-digit percentage drop in trust.” Forrester Research reported in March, 2014 that the NSA-Snowden disclosures likely cost the cloud computing industry up to $180 billion in losses. Those are enormous in their expressions of the impact of a lack of digital trust and effective governance.
But here is the quote from Brad Smith that is the most important: “You cannot restore trust without greater transparency. Now the question is: how?”
What Smith is really asking is not how to build transparency, but how to build transparency in a manner that is consistent with the wealth creation values for which companies exist. Our challenge is to use technology to establish the transparency required for trust while also enabling companies to achieve their business objectives. But that challenge is not met unless we can also enable governments to function effectively in providing regulatory supervision of the markets on which their economic engines and services depend.
Providing solutions to those challenges must be hard; indeed, it is impossible to escape the coincidence that Smith posed his question less than eight weeks after Microsoft itself reorganized its own Trustworthy Computing group with massive layoffs.
But imagine if, indeed, there was an answer to the question posed by Smith and, as well, an answer to the real question he did not articulate. Imagine if the answer to that question is accessible, scalable, and built upon delivering and valuing transparency. Imagine if that answer both expresses the business case for how to effectively build trust and enable continued effectiveness of government. Those are the answers, and the qualities of the answers, which I have presented in my new book.
See, the suggestion that trust needs to be re-built is a feint, a bluff to divert attention from the fact that trust was never designed into the earlier architectures of net-based communications. Securing the pathways and the castle walls enabled us to presume trust, but that does not mean trust was ever built into the functional designs. Instead, we are facing a critical point at which, as a global society, we will need to consider abandoning the notion that we can rebuild trust in technology; instead, we must begin to design trust into the infrastructural replacements for our existing structures.
Much like super-highways replaced two lane roads, built to standards that enabled high volume, high capacity, high velocity transport, so too must we leverage the inherent architectural feature of the Internet to “route around failure” and simply declare a new start. “Rebuilding Trust in Tech” is sort of like trying to install a new staircase and functional plumbing in a 15th century castle—the existing structure simply is not built to support the required features.
I do not have the ego to believe that my new book presents all of the answers, but I do have the confidence that the book offers a foundational starting point for the global dialogue that will be needed to truly design and build trust into the networks, systems, devices, applications, and information assets on which the world’s population depends.
On Wednesday, November 13 in New York City, I will be introducing for the first time in the United States some of the key strategies for how to achieve the answers to Brad Smith’s questions (stated and unstated) at the eSign Records 2014 conference.
Now is the time to not just ask the question; now is the time to begin building digital trust.