Drawing on discussions from recent MEF Privacy events in London and Las Vegas and viewed through the prism of MWC, Arthur Goldstruck, Founder of World Wide Worx, explores how issues around trust in new technologies is hampering consumer uptake in groundbreaking new services, and what the global mobile ecosystem can do about it.
It is 9 o’clock on a Monday morning. Tens of thousands of people wait outside the Fira Gran Via in Barcelona, the lines snaking around the block. Behind the locked doors of the vast convention centre, thousands of exhibitors prepare to show off new products for the visitors.
Over the next four days, 100,000 industry professionals will be exposed to every possible variation on mobile hardware, software and services, each hoping to spot the next big thing. Each fixated on not missing out on the mobile future.
This year’s Mobile World Congress, which ran in Barcelona from February 27 to March 2, boasted the world’s largest show floor devoted to mobile technology. But one crucial element was missing from the vast majority of new products. And few of the delegates thought to ask about it, so mesmerised were they by the many futures on display.
This was the element of Trust. As the 21st century gets well under way, entirely new categories of technology are emerging, and spectacular new products and services are launched into the market daily. The result may well be a ready and eager public, but equally it is a nervous and distrustful public.
The consequence of such distrust is that, while the MWC show floors heaved with flying and riding drones, mobile devices in every shape and style, and human beings lost in virtual reality headsets, many of these products will simply die when they reach the real world of consumer purchase decisions.
Earlier this year, the Data Privacy and Security Summit at the CES expo in Las Vegas brought this issue to the fore as speakers and panelists debated how to build trust into emerging technologies. The session, hosted by the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF), highlighted the role of trust across the boundaries of safety, compliance, law, security, privacy and ethics.
Rather than being an attack on futuristic technologies, however, it focused on the importance of innovation and the need for consumer trust as a cornerstone for industry collaboration.
“Building privacy and security is really core to creating the future of the industry,” said Rimma Perelmuter, the MEF’s CEO and Global Board Director, introducing the session. “We have a big focus on raising awareness of how important this is for consumers, not only in terms of best practise but also showcasing innovation.”
One way to view the trust imperative is to focus on the major new product categories that are being prepared for the main event, namely the consumer mass market. In my opening presentation in this session, entitled “The Flaw in the Future”, this was the framework in which the trust factor was tested against new technologies.
For example, artificial intelligence (AI) is about to emerge into the consumer mainstream, literally in the hands of the user.
The new Huawei Mate 9 large format smartphone, launched to the North American market at CES 2017, uses machine learning to optimise the phone’s performance continually, based on user behaviour. The promise is that, after 18 months, the phone’s performance will be better than when it was new.
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It is also rumoured that Samsung will introduce AI in the new Galaxy S8, expected to be launched in the coming months. At Mobile World Congress, one could find AI either in the products or in the promises of numerous exhibitors.
The trust challenge in such technology lies in the fact that consumer AI will work best when data on user needs, behaviour and activity are processed in the cloud and tested against other aggregated data. For many consumers, this represents the final data surrender, as they will have to allow even their most minute activities to be tracked.
The challenge, in the mobile ecosystem, is to lock down every imaginable privacy and security breach, or even perception of breach. This requires more than merely sound software engineering or hardware design optimised for consumer protection. It needs education on this protection, and it demands clear messaging.
Both the protection and the messaging needs to be conceived at the design stage of the new product, technology or service. It must be part of the DNA built into the design, rather than a marketing message bolted on as the product is about to go to market.
Consider new medical technology. A chip designed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology can detect a molecule called troponin, which is released by the heart muscle when it begins malfunctioning – and gives three to four hours warning before a likely heart attack. The chip is implanted just under the skin, and tansmits a warning signal to a receiver on the skin, which in turn sends a signal to the user’s smartphone. In effect, your blood phones you to warn that you’re about to have a heart attack.
That may sound like expensive science fiction, but it is hoped that the cost of the chips will come down to around a dollar each in the near future. That will result in doctors routinely implanting them in at-risk patients.
It is one of those marvelous innovations that abound in the mobile ecosystem. But consider the trust factor. If nervous patients, or their distrustful families, are sold only on the technology, without the trust element being part of the very fabric of the product, they may well reject it for fear of hackers, radiation, interference and even privacy violations.
Ironically, this is not a bad thing. Rather, it represents massive opportunity.
As Perelmuter put it: “There is an opportunity here for driving competitive advantage. If you built trust, and bake it into your product from an early stage, you would actually be more cost effective in the long run and you would drive customer loyalty.”
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