It’s easy to forget just how much technology has changed our world and our lives. A little more than a decade ago, a small business owner relied on foot traffic from local customers rather than web visits from international shoppers to grow. Drivers mapped out unfamiliar routes and took wrong turns instead of using precise, voice-activated directions to travel. Cancer patients faced an uncertain diagnosis before algorithms mapped their disease’s pathology to determine a clearer prognosis and a better treatment. Innovation has transformed life for people around the globe, from creating new economic opportunities to making everyday tasks easier to discovering new breakthroughs that lead to healthier and longer lives.
However, these advancements have not come without sometimes unintended, and often disruptive, consequences. The ticker of negative headlines can make it easy to lose sight of technology’s benefits and lead many to question its role in our lives. That sentiment flows from a legitimate set of concerns, including how companies handle people’s personal information and how automation and artificial intelligence will affect jobs and economic opportunities. These concerns and others like them deserve a sincere response.
The tech industry is at a crossroads. We must answer the pressing questions being asked of us, provide clear information and solutions, and work harder to deepen trust among consumers and the public broadly. At the same time, we must continue to deliver the innovative products that are in demand. I’m confident we can do both.
History gives us an important perspective on how we can strike that balance. Decades ago, we were in the midst of a technological breakthrough in banking: the ATM. This new and disruptive technology raised questions and created challenges related to workforce and consumer security, among others. As policies shifted, businesses adapted, and the technology moved forward – to society’s benefit.
Over the last 20 years, I’ve had a front-row seat to the changing policy environment during more recent periods of rapid technological advancement. I worked in the tech, telecommunications, and financial industries as cables and cords turned into wireless networks and the cloud, our phones became our wallets, and passwords and fingerprints replaced locks and keys. As a consumer, I can’t imagine my life without the convenience and opportunities these innovations created. As a professional, I know how valuable strong public and private collaboration was to help these industries evolve in a thoughtful and balanced way.
In the years ahead, the breakthroughs driven by the technology industry will continue to raise questions and force us to reexamine our current policies. For any industry, it’s a priority to respond to customer demands on its own. However, when the market doesn’t respond to those calls, U.S. Congress should step in.
We’re seeing this powerful dynamic at work now in the privacy debate. Our industry recognizes we must do everything we can to meet consumers’ expectations when it comes to protecting their personal data, including giving people greater control over their information and holding tech companies accountable. We support national privacy legislation, and in the meantime we recognize our duty to advance the goals of such legislation by uniting tech and other sectors around industry best practices that are consistent with our Framework to Advance Interoperable Rules (FAIR) on Privacy and help restore trust.
Many industries work collaboratively with policymakers to ensure change and implement regulations and legal requirements, especially after the passage of new laws. For example, following adoption of legislation to regulate the securities industry, U.S. Congress empowered a non-profit association called Financial Industry Regulatory Authority to adopt and enforce rules and regulations to ensure that the public was protected. Public-private partnerships on standards exist across sectors, including advertising and cybersecurity. Earlier this year, ITI provided comments to the National Institute of Standards and Technology Request for Information on “Developing a Privacy Framework” to help organizations protect data and better identify, assess, manage, and communicate privacy risks. We’re encouraged this collaboration is already happening for privacy and remain fully engaged in that effort. Regardless of the path forward, participating in a constructive dialogue with policymakers, regulators, and consumers to find a workable solution is critical.
This tension is a natural part of innovation, but we shouldn’t let it weaken technology’s positive and transformative force or its ability to connect us in ways we never thought possible, treat the untreatable, help small businesses thrive, create jobs, and make our lives better. I don’t know what the next technological breakthrough will be. But I do know it won’t happen unless we all endeavor to maintain an environment where innovation can continue to thrive, improve lives, and shape a better future for generations to come.
Jason Oxman is the new President and CEO of ITI.