The Critical Need to Rebuild Digital Trust as Technology Proliferates

KPMG Edge March 2023

That’s why “digital trust” – society’s confidence in the ability of technology to protect the public interest – is paramount in our hyper-connected world. Digital trust demands the ethical use of data, along with strong security and regulatory frameworks to safeguard the public interest. The domain of digital trust forms a small but growing part of the social and regulatory agendas in today’s Environment, Social, and Governance strategies.

To my chagrin, consumers today don’t have much trust in how organizations and governments use their data. With machine learning solutions exploding, people are also becoming aware of how these algorithms are used to make business decisions. According to the World Economic Forum, the trust deficit is real and rising. The organization says consumers are vexed over the lack of security for their personal data, the inadequate transparency among the gatekeepers, and ethical lapses that lead to improper use of information.

I applaud the work of WEF’s Digital Trust initiative, which seeks to create a global consensus among stakeholders on the definition of digital trust and how we can improve cyber risk management. As the WEF cautions in its report:  “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 pleased to see that state regulators are developing an expanded definition of privacy protection and are taking seriously the morphing threat of cyber attacks and cyber risk management. As well, regulators have begun to consider how to govern the new world of machine learning solutions, artificial intelligence and the metaverse.

As our dependance on the digital ecosystem increases, and technological innovation grows, I believe that regulators must maintain a careful balancing act that addresses corporate trust, societal concerns, and the role of government in driving technological progress.

Turning digital challenges into opportunities

The need to address today’s public trust deficit creates an opportunity for organizations that want to go beyond the widely accepted standards that govern the use of technology, data, and machine learning solutions. These businesses can promote a digital trust agenda that demonstrates true accountability and transparency and then link that campaign to their brands and products.

To do so, organizations will have to explain how they gather data (and for what purpose) and articulate how they use data to make decisions. This transparency will inspire confidence in the digital trust technologies that we use in every aspect of our lives – from infrastructure to medical devices and beyond.

This proactive approach will build confidence among today’s increasingly aware and activist global consumers. Businesses that leverage the value of digital trust technologies can also send a message of goodwill to regulators, thereby preempting government action and alleviating ethical concerns. To accomplish this goal, organizations must dedicate adequate resources to address their regulatory and ethical deficits.

Let’s bring the power of social dialogue to life

It’s still unclear which sector will drive the demand for public trust – governments, regulators, corporations, or consumers. There are a few leading global brands already headed in this direction, and they have been rewarded as champions of consumer protection and social responsibility. It’s also possible that an entirely new sector will emerge to monitor trust frameworks, like rating agencies.  Investors and consumers will be watching this development closely and hold corporations to their promises.

For the time being, I’m pleased with the useful steps already taken by the WEF’s Digital Trust initiative. “Digital Trust is a necessity in a global economy reliant on ever-increasing connectivity, data use and new innovative technologies,” the WEF writes. “In order to be trustworthy, technology must be secure — ensuring connected systems’ confidentiality, integrity and availability — as well as responsibly used.”

To be sure, this is a mission that requires immediate attention. In the end, we will all benefit from a digital ecosystem we can trust, one that produces safe and trusted digital trust technologies.



This article is based on an article published at KPMG global by Akhilesh Tuteja, Leadership 

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