Five dilemmas for the tech industry to navigate
While these aren’t the only challenges, here are five areas of concern the technology industry is currently facing. Steps are being taken, but is it enough?
Data usage: According to the UN, 128 of 194 countries currently have enacted some form of data protection and privacy legislation.1 Even more regulation and increased enforcement are being considered.2 This attention is due to multiple industry problems including abuse of consumer data and massive data breaches. Until clear and universal standards emerge, the industry continues to work toward addressing this dilemma. This includes making data privacy a core tenet and competitive differentiator, like Apple, which recently released an app tracking transparency feature.3 We’re also seeing greater market demand, evident by the significant growth of the privacy tech industry.4 Will companies simply do the minimum amount required to comply with data-related regulations, or will they go above and beyond to collect, use, and protect data in a more equitable way for everyone?
Environmental sustainability: There’s a push for technology companies to go beyond what’s required by law on environmental sustainability. There are those who challenge the industry for its energy use, supply chains that could be more efficient, manufacturing waste, and water use in semiconductor fabrication. The good news is technology companies have the market power to create significant change. Tech companies are some of the largest buyers of renewable energy in the world and are working to run their massive data centers off that energy.5 Some focus on zero waste initiatives, improving recycling and promoting circular economy principles. Cisco’s Takeback and Reuse program and Microsoft’s 2030 zero waste goal are examples.6 Others work toward net-zero carbon through The Climate Pledge, spearheaded by Amazon, or individual efforts, such as Apple’s pledge to become carbon-neutral across its businesses by 2030.7
Trustworthy AI: The rapid deployment of AI into societal decision-making—from health care recommendations to hiring decisions and autonomous driving—has catalyzed an ongoing ethics conversation. It’s increasingly important that AI-powered systems operate under principles that benefit society and avoid issues with bias, fairness, transparency, and explainability. To address these issues, we’ve seen tech industry players establish advisory panels, guiding principles, and the sponsoring of academic programs.8 We’ve also seen action beyond statements of principle. Some larger tech players decided in 2020 to stop providing AI-powered facial recognition systems to police departments until clear guidelines, or legislation, is in place.9 This is a solid foundation to build on, but faith in the industry is low.10 As a consequence, we see a growing potential for government action and regulation, such as the EU’s proposed Artificial Intelligence Act and recent statements from the Federal Trade Commission in the United States.11
Threats to truth: There are hordes of people and groups using disinformation, misinformation, deepfakes, and the weaponizing of data to attack, manipulate, and influence for personal gain, or to sow chaos. To help address this intractable issue, technology companies have asked governments to pass regulations clearly outlining responsibilities and standards.12 They’re also cooperating more with law enforcement and intelligence agencies, publishing public reports of their findings, and increasing overall vigilance and action.13 In addition, many companies have signed up for the EU’s voluntary Code of Practice on Disinformation, which is currently being strengthened.14 Is this all happening fast and comprehensively enough and with enough forethought?
Physical and mental health: The technology industry can not only impact the physical and mental well-being of customers who use and overuse its products and services, but also by its direct involvement in health care, which has been accelerated by the pandemic.15 We’re still working to better understand the impacts of technology on health, and a lot of research and debate are ongoing.16 Although measuring the impact of both is difficult and complex, the technology industry has shown it can improve health-related areas with tech such as wearables, and through better access to providers through telehealth, sensors, devices, and apps for chronic disease monitoring, and improving diagnoses through advanced analytics and AI.
Addressing these dilemmas is critically important, but what concerns technology industry leaders the most at the moment? In a Deloitte survey of technology industry professionals, the vast majority found all the dilemmas critical, but data privacy was seen as the most (figure 1).17 This focus could be because of the current regulatory landscape. The issue is more real for leaders and can have an impact on their day-to-day operations. The other dilemmas may be seen as impacting their organization further in the future or, are simply more nebulous.