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Thursday, 20 October 2016 17:23

Nadella says trust in tech is the most pressing issue of our time Featured


Spoiler alert – you are going to have to trust at least one major technology provider with your innermost secrets. The question is who do you trust?

Do you trust Apple (Siri), Amazon (Alexa), Google (OK Google), Microsoft (Cortana) and thier operating systems, or the host of smaller IT companies with your innermost thoughts? Moving forward you will have to trust at least one and the battle for trust will be around transparency and what the organisation does with that information.

It has long been said that Android was a thinly disguised vehicle for advertising – that is true. The telemetry and information collected by phones used by 85% of the global population are rivers of gold for Google.

Amazon’s true value is in the database of users and their shopping habits – people willing to purchase diverse goods from aardvarks to zebras. But more importantly is why they are buying the alphabet of goods – birthdays, celebrations and hedonistic pursuits. And Amazon sells that data to other marketers.

Apple and Microsoft may well be clones. Bing and Safari know your Web surfing habits, Siri and Cortana your personal habits, and both snoop on email, contacts, and calendars.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s thoughtful, Hindu, chief executive, has some interesting takes he presented to a Gartner conference.

He faced off with Gartner’s analysts about Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn – the professional network that is almost mandatory for wage slaves these days. Analyst Helen Huntley was sincere about her fears. “Cortana knows everything about me when I'm working. She knows what files I'm looking at, she knows what I'm downloading, she knows when I'm working, when I'm not working. Cortana is big brother intersected ... with productivity.”

Nadella responded, “How does one build trust in technology? It is perhaps the most pressing issue of our time.”

He explained that Cortana (Bing) operated on "four pillars." These include:

  • Keeping data secure;
  • Transparency, meaning that users will "know exactly what Cortana knows";
  • The ability to turn off data access (to Microsoft and others); and
  • To be compliant with the most stringent privacy regulations.

Another analyst asked, “What are you doing with our data?”

Nadella calmly responded, “Microsoft is just custodian of that data. The only data it has access to is when users allow it for the purpose of adding value to it."

"For example, someone can be much more informed about who they are meeting with if their calendar includes LinkedIn profile links of meeting attendees. A user's news feed can also be shaped to include information about meeting participants. " … natural points of integration."

"Those points of integration are just open APIs available to everyone. Allowing integration will help make LinkedIn grow."

"Windows is the most open platform there is," he said. He was referring to the “new Microsoft" under his leadership that is concerned with everyone’s privacy and not driven by advertising dollars as some other behemoths.

When talking about the cloud, Nadella said, “The key to the growth of the Azure cloud platform is that customers trust Microsoft. Anyone who is building on Azure is building because they know and can count on us in doing the best job of creating the best platform for them as well as the best economic opportunity …  That’s how we’ve been able to build up our previous businesses. Our competitive advantage is that maturity to deal with relationships so that trust is what we engender.”

“With any technology, whether it is AI or whether it’s the cloud…the currency going forward is how does one build trust in technology so that people and organisations are comfortable using more technology. I think that is one of the pressing issues of our times," he said.

This is most relevant to Microsoft and others as they work on artificial intelligence which needs to know all (about you) to know all. The big question is where it is headed as it will be the most intrusive of all.

Trust in tech companies is lowest of all sectors

Global communications group Edelman conducts an annual trust barometer and has recently included the technology sector. Appropriately, its comment this year is “Clouds gather on the tech-trust horizon.”

While trust is generally increasing across government, business, the media and NGOs, it says there is clearly “work to be done here".

About 74% said they trusted major tech firms “to do what is right” driven by a perceived “halo of innovation, efficiency, and futurism". But tech companies are perceived as not behaving well on some very important issues.

There are major concerns over protecting consumer data, transparency of reporting and social responsibility. In other words, the massive data breaches of 2016 (and earlier) have shaken our confidence in keeping our data safe. There are also unanswered questions about what is done with “our data".

Edelman says tech companies have the power and mandate to address these issues and would be wise to do so without inviting regulatory action, or at least by participating in solutions more proactively. These are reasonable public expectations. Tech companies would also do well to note that their customers, in addition to being excited by the originality and convenience of their products and services, want to hear more directly and candidly about how these impact on their privacy, awareness, and safety.

Interestingly, consumers have significantly less trust in tech company chief executives – perhaps CEOs are (rightfully or not) taking the brunt of blame for the decisions. There is a clear call in this for tech CEOs to pay much more attention to their reputations, listen more closely their to stakeholders, and respond accordingly, or risk losing impact and influence when their audiences turn to others.

Finally, certain tech sub-sectors are trusted even less – 51% have trust issues with cloud storage (security of data), 50% for virtual/augmented/mixed reality; 47% for autonomous vehicles, and 43% IoT-based companies.


I really don’t care if it is Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn et al. making claims about trust. The fact is that all have abused consumers trust over the years.

What I care about is that my data — that gigabytes of me — is my data and that I have a say in how it is used, especially where it is aggregated and allows third parties to know more about my shopping or Web habits than I do.

The debate going forward for all IT companies must be on how they use that data. If it is for its product improvement or to counter new malware, then great.

If it is to sell to the “great data marketing lake” for a multitude of marketing uses, then I want out.

However, try asking what is being done with your data and you are referred to an ironically named “privacy policy” which is, in fact, the opposite – pages and pages of legal guff with loopholes that you could drive a Double-B through. Try asking to see and edit your data – well, good luck. Try getting it deleted – impossible. You see, data is the new gold.

The debate moving forward should not concentrate on what is being collected but on what we want to allow to be collected and what we allow it to be used for. If every piece/type of data collected had the simple question, “Do you want this date shared outside this one-off use?” then we may see people take more responsibility for their data.

Edelman concludes that trust equates to the balance sheet and the bottom line. Paraphrased, it says that tech companies need to build trust to help the company build a better future by increased recommendation of its products, a desire to work for them, and consumer and shareholder confidence.

Frankly, all the IT behemoths are doing a lousy job. I hope and trust that Nadella is sincere.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!



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