Are you recording our conversation?
It all started with an unexpected sound from my mobile phone, which had been laid on the table during a conversation with a colleague. For a second or two, we both felt uneasy, but our mutual trust didn’t allow a piece of technology to frustrate a successful collaboration. We both looked at the handset, only to find that the Voice Search facility was still expecting me to say “OK, Google…”.
However, not all unexpected ‘actions’ from mobile phones are just dismissed by their owners. In many cases individuals have concluded that their phones are ‘listening’ to them, and this may have had significant implications. A BBC News report discusses a number of such cases. By showing how an application installed on a mobile phone can easily turn a nearby conversation into a string of words somewhere else, it points out that anything we say in a discussion, private or otherwise, can end up being used for advertising or any other purpose. It is hardly surprising that Google and other major firms behind the technology in our pockets absolutely reject the idea that this is being done -at least in their knowledge. However, more recently it has been discovered that Google discreetly record and store conversations that people have around its products. All voice recordings can be accessed and deleted by the user; however, the controversy around this is the fact that Google has been doing this discreetly, for years, without the knowledge of the majority of its users.
Whether our smartphones ‘listen’ to us or not, the argument in itself affects individuals’ trust in the technology and this poses a number of challenges for business and society. If such a level of intrusion were to materialise, its effects would be both severe and long-standing, perhaps these fears could be fuelled by a lack of understanding of the technology and what it can actually do.
When it comes to technology, the hardware and software industries are evolving rapidly. No matter how powerful a new smartphone is, it may soon run out of space to store all the data we unconsciously generate and the application updates we are advised to apply for the security of our own data. As well as individuals, companies are also expected to keep up with technology developments to be able to benefit from the new opportunities offered by big data and business analytics and – more important, if they are to remain ‘cyber resilient’. This is where we all need advice particularly given that the boundary between work and personal use technology becomes increasingly blurred.
Even when regular routine maintenance of a mobile device is not a requirement, individuals are not always able to discern between a desirable and a required update, clear unused and often sensitive data from our devices, or simply to remain digitally organised. There is an increasing gap between the capabilities embedded in technology and an individual’s ability to exploit their new functionality. The unknown may sometimes lead to a lack of confidence in the technology which in turn might result in wrong decisions being made. For example, individuals may avoid updates for an application, often affecting our ability to benefit from online services or even putting our own data at risk. Indeed, a number of studies have concluded that there is a direct link between individuals’ knowledge of information technologies, trust in Internet privacy and security and the adoption of online services. This may have a range of negative consequences, from affecting the success of e-government services to deterring Internet-based economic activities such as e-commerce.
In tech we should trust?
There is little doubt that new technology has acted as an enabler for maximising new business opportunities that would previously have been out of reach. For businesses trust is the life-blood because without it they are unlikely to generate new sales and history is littered with examples of businesses that have faced challenging times because of a lack of trust. We now have a business environment where online transactions account for over half the business conducted in any given day, trust in privacy and security of data and online activity is an imperative for both business and society. Some argue that trust in information technology relies to a large extent on technical developments such as new technology design and implementation. However, it is their ease of use which leads to individuals’ engagement in online information sharing and transactions of all kinds, from online banking to the generation and sharing of personal health data.
Ease of use aside, technology can still be intimidating to those of us who were introduced to it later in life and can cause uncertainties in using it altogether. However, what we can be sure of is that technology will continue to develop to become faster and smarter. Educating the younger generation in how to use it appropriately can feel daunting when often times they seem better at it than we do. But we cannot evade our collective obligation to make technology a tool that society can use safely and responsibly. We must to some degree, trust the technology we use. If we become more knowledgeable in technology, our understanding of it will assist us greatly when having to make daily tech-related decisions, such as, which updates to accept, when is it safe to divulge sensitive data and so forth.
To maintain trust or increase it in technology, businesses should consider increasing access to technology. To do this, businesses need to clearly explain to customers exactly how technology can be used safely. This means no longer using jargon (or defining jargon) that is hard for individuals to fathom but instead to have clear step-by-step instructions. This could empower individuals to safeguard their own data and use of technology, both online and offline. However transparency in technology alone may not have the same impact as it potentially could have unless it is combined with a responsive and accountable governing body.
So, what about businesses themselves? Even the best security technology in the world can’t help unless businesses ensure that employees understand their roles and responsibilities in safeguarding sensitive data and protecting company resources. This will involve putting practices and policies in place that promote security and training employees to be able to identify and avoid risks. It is only when individuals fully understand our technology and how to use it will we be able to remove the uncertainty behind an unexpected beep.
 American Monetary Association (http://americanmonetaryassociation.org/blog/5-ways-to-protect-your-money-online/)
 Cegarra-Navarro, J.G., Garcia-Perez, A., and Moreno-Cegarra, J.L. (2014) ‘Technology Knowledge and Governance: Empowering Citizen Engagement and Participation’. Government Information Quarterly 31 (4), 660–668
 U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (https://www.ntia.doc.gov/blog/2016/lack-trust-internet-privacy-and-security-may-deter-economic-and-other-online-activities)