Security, privacy and trust are key to closing the digital divide

01 Jun 2016

As telecoms players, regulators, and other players in the coming digital ecosystem labor to bridge the digital divide, they’ll need a game plan to ensure that the security, privacy and livelihood of the newly connected is maintained.

That was the theme that emerged in a plenary panel discussion at CommunicAsia2016 Tuesday morning. Initially billed as a talk on how to connect the next three billion people, the discussion quickly turned away from the question of “how” and focused on what will happen once that target has been achieved.

Gerd Leonhard, futurist and CEO of The Futures Agency, who moderated the panel, started with the idea is that by the time the next three billion people are connected, the telecoms landscape will have shifted drastically to a digital ecosystem where people will be vastly outnumbered by connected machines and the cloud will be a centralized artificially intelligent “brain” processing big data analytics for better personalization.

All of this puts a greater emphasis on security, privacy and trust, said Ulf Ewaldsson, SVP, Group CTO and Head of Group Function Technology at Ericsson.

“The IoT and the cloud will create a world with new security rules,” Ewaldsson said. “With the cloud, you have more centralized data storage, which helps in terms of better security, but then it’s a question of who controls it and can you trust them? Which clouds do we trust? How is privacy safeguarded?”

Ewaldsson added that networks will be more secure in the coming years, but that security will ultimately be everyone’s responsibility, including the end users themselves.

Asked whether a global framework was needed to ensure security and privacy needs were met, Ewaldsson said this wasn’t realistic. “There will be standards from agencies like the UN, for example, but a global framework where you have, say, China and the US implementing the same internet privacy ethics is not likely.”

Another challenge in connecting everyone, Leonhard said, is managing the impact of the efficiency gains of a digital economy and the IoT, such as jobs lost to automation.

Caesar Sengupta, VP of product management at Google, said such concerns were understandable but overblown.

“Every technology has looked scary when it first emerged and everyone predicts the end of society,” he said. “The focus shouldn’t be on the loss of jobs but how to retrain people and provide new opportunities for them to take advantage of this.”

Ewaldsson of Ericsson agreed. “The job question is artificial. There will be short-term concerns, but humans are very adaptable to technological revolutions, so in the long term it’s not going to be a big problem.”

Bill Morrow, CEO of Australia’s NBN Co, commented that it’s only to be expected that some people will worry about the unintended consequences of technological progress, “We fear what we don’t know.”

But, he added, it’s impractical to try and safeguard against every possible worst-case outcome. “We’re not smart enough to map it out, so we really need to just let it happen - calibrate it as we go along, but not fear it.”

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