Blazing a trail without consequence?


Technology consistently changes the way we live and work.

It’s a premise we see in everyday life and something that we live and breathe at Whiteoaks with our clients. Yes we are in PR, so yes, we spin it, and yes, we focus on ‘the message’. However, ultimately, from the top down – from tech CEOs down to account executives here in Farnham – we all believe in game-changing technology that shapes consumer and working lives and we want to spread the word.

In the B2B world, the cloud has changed the way we do business, mobile has shaken traditional business to its very core and data is the new oil. Great. But does all this happen without consequence? Or is the tech industry bulldozing its way across new frontiers without a care in the world?

That was the topic of a debate I attended this week, facilitated by the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (WCIT) and attended by some of business, government and IT’s big-hitters, from Microsoft’s Director of International Security Relations, to the Commissioner of the City of London Police.

The motion? “Should the IT industry be doing more technologically to reduce the rising tide of criminality and abuse on the Internet?” Chatham House rule you understand, so I won’t be spilling the beans on who thinks what. But great insight nonetheless.

It is a highly contentious issue of course, and one that sparked mass debate and arguments for and against. Even down to individual words in the notion – should, rather than could immediately drew attention. As in yes, the IT industry could do more, but fundamentally should it have to? Is it really the industry’s problem if individuals and organisations choose to misuse the tech in their hands? After all, people have been shooting people for years, but very few are suggesting that gun manufacturers are responsible for this.

An interesting debate for sure, but to me it felt like a bit of a side issue. And while a range of topics were picked apart, one that struck a chord the most with me again went back to the heart of the notion and the word technologically. Is this actually a technology issue?

A theme that came across really strongly and one that I feel it’s tough to argue against is education. Many of last night’s delegates were in agreement – the industry must do more to educate users of its technology about how to use it safely and securely. Of course you can’t legislate for people’s own careless approach to online activity. However, more must be done with users at an early age, for whom technology is simply a part of how they live, to showcase the dangers and how to avoid them. The ‘you should lock your own door attitude’ doesn’t quite wash now, with the impact of technology on all our lives.

Who pays for this is a wider issue – clearly the industry spends billions on making its products and solutions secure already. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be an industry. So perhaps the government needs to take charge and regulate exactly what needs to be done? That would drive a change in approach for sure but there are two main issues here as I see it:

· If regulation is driven by a country’s government, how does that work in a global landscape?

· Do we want to stifle innovation, as regulation arguably would? The geek in his bedroom coding the next Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram can’t really be expected to build in a whole raft of legislation into his product can he? If he did, would the product ever even get off the ground?

Really, this is just scratching the surface of the issue. But the industry, I feel, is on the cusp of a change in mind set – there is a growing consensus from all sides that more must be done. And as it takes over almost every aspect of our lives, I think it has to.

The debate, and this blog, could have raged on for hours, and the outcome of the debate’s final vote? A 50/50 split. So I’ll leave it with my favourite take-out quote from the evening – “When Mark Zuckerburg has children, the nature of Facebook will change forever.”