Society problems

What does technology owe to society? The intersection of trust, digital ethics and ESG

Posted 02-01-22

Proposed by vmware

By Nicola Acutt

I never imagined working for a technology company at the start of my career. For a very long time, I thought my path would keep me in academia. I set out to inspire class after class of business students at the Presidio Graduate School to care about sustainability. I made sure they all read Debra Meyerson’s “Tempered Radicals,” a guide to bringing about positive change inside organizations. And I encouraged them to be those agents of change for a better, greener world when they entered the corporate space.

What led me to give up teaching and become a corporate change agent myself? I have always been driven by the desire to make a difference in the world, to create as much good as possible. And when the opportunity to join VMware presented itself in 2010, it was clear to me that the future — of sustainability, education and business — would be shaped by technology. So I had to say yes to the opportunity and jump in with both feet. I wanted to help ensure that the future of technology can also support a better future for the world.

More than a decade later, technology has become more woven into the fabric of our lives than I could have imagined. It’s been part of the foundation of how people learn, work, and connect with each other, especially over the past two years. But this centrality comes with mixed feelings.

We are long past the rose gold age of people who thought Silicon Valley would save the world. Yes, technology can enable extraordinary advances that make our lives easier, solve complex problems, and improve productivity, connection, and communication. But it can just as well cost jobs, sow social divisions and exacerbate inequalities.

These tensions have only increased in recent years. Increased regulatory scrutiny, misinformation on social media, and incidents such as Cambridge Analytica, SolarWinds, and the recent Log4j vulnerability have caused trust in the technology to plummet. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer found that trust in technology hit historic lows in 17 out of 27 countries last year. This has been particularly pronounced in the United States, where technology has fallen from first to ninth place in terms of trust by sector between 2020 and 2021.

In short: Technology is playing a bigger role in our world than ever before, and collectively, we’ve never trusted it less. So where do we go from here? Answering this question is one of the main reasons why trust is the third and final outcome we seek as part of the VMware 2030 Agenda.

“We care that customers trust us with their data, rely on the security of our products, and rely on our people. But we also recognize that our obligations go far beyond that.”

I admit it: the inclusion of trust in an ESG framework has caused more than a frown, even within our own organization. Shouldn’t trust be what a trustworthy company is all about? And of course the answer is yes. We care that our customers trust us with their data, rely on the security of our products, and rely on our people. But we also recognize that our obligations are much more important than that.

VMware is part of a larger technology ecosystem whose rules and standards are still being created. As an industry, we have yet to come to a consensus on what constitutes digital ethics. I’ve heard some say that the problems made possible by technology cannot be attributed to the technology itself, that it is an agnostic tool used by individuals who are ultimately responsible for what they do with it. But that always seemed to me to be a misleading argument. Technology cannot be neutral because it is created by people. And people are not neutral. Recognizing this is the first step in our industry to realizing what we owe to a world that we are fundamentally reshaping every day.

Nor can we ignore that the digital infrastructure we create is subject to unprecedented levels of malicious threats. Cybersecurity has traditionally been viewed as a technological issue. But with so much information being shared online and so many industries relying on digital tools to conduct critical operations, cyberattacks and data breaches can have significant societal impacts.

This question is particularly important to me this week, during Data Privacy Week. It’s an annual opportunity for companies to reflect on how they can be more intentional and transparent in collecting, using and securing personal data. And that gives me hope that one day cyber resilience will be part of every company’s ESG strategy.

That’s what we do at VMware. We hold ourselves to the highest standards of transparency and reporting, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because we want to raise the bar for our entire industry. We build ideas like Zero Trust Security and Privacy by Design into our products, not because we want them to be competitive features, but because we know that’s what we owe our customers. , to the end users of our products and to society as a whole.

I have written before about why sustainability and equity are part of the 2030 Agenda. They are not unique. These two issues are so universal and urgent that they should be on every company’s agenda, regardless of your business or product. But being the guardians of trust, security and privacy in the ever-expanding and all-encompassing digital world is a responsibility that falls solely to the tech industry. It’s time to start carrying the weight.

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