Trust is key in growing the digital economy

A fundamental human value underlies all of today's emerging technological capability. That value is trust, and it's being threatened. As business leaders, we can't ignore those who are concerned about the degradation of privacy and security on the Internet. They won't accept it, and neither should we.

The digital economy can't prosper in a world separate from our civilized society and the fundamental values upon which it's based.

So when it comes to business over the Internet, your word has to be your bond.

There's no one authority that polices Internet communities, no extensive system of laws to protect you. It falls to all of us -- business leaders, government leaders and consumers -- to create the environment of trust that ensures the validity of the digital economy.

So, will we adhere to a fundamental principle of mutual trust, or will a breach of trust be the digital sin that undoes our brave new e-world, dooming its hopes for exponential progress?

A recent story in The Wall Street Journal told of a man who had looked up personal details of hundreds of his old high school classmates -- information on their homes, mortgages and property values. It was an intrusion into their private lives through the misuse of personal data and an abuse of trust. Even though it wasn't against the law to access the information, it was a breach of the individuals' expectations of privacy.

Last year, one in three Internet users was the victim of a privacy or security breach. No surprise, then, that a recent survey published in the Journal found that 94 percent of respondents are still concerned about threats to their privacy on the Internet.

How many privacy violations does it take for trust to disappear? The digital economy has significantly widened the scope for privacy abuse. And we won't have to wait long before all our customers demand absolute, no-fail privacy protection. Privacy will become a fundamental enabler for the digital economy.

Businesses that create and maintain trust by protecting privacy will be the market leaders in the digital economy. By not taking action, we are permitting unacceptable behavior. If we continue to look the other way, the problem will only intensify.

Successfully incorporating privacy practices requires strong CEO leadership and commitment throughout the enterprise. All of us in industry must commit to these issues. If we don't, government will. Already, there are more than 20 bills on privacy before Congress, even more in the state legislatures. The privacy issue demands not a government answer or a business answer but a personal answer.

If you want to establish a relationship with an individual consumer or business, it must be based on mutual trust or it will always be suspect. That mutual trust requires you to honor, respect and protect one another. We can't look at people's personal information as something that can be bartered in the marketplace.

No action is no option.

These are edited remarks from a speech Dick Brown delivered before The Economic Club of Detroit on May 7, 2001.

This story, "Trust is key in growing the digital economy " was originally published by Computerworld.

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