A problem of trust. Not tech. Part 1

A great deal of the discussion about end-to-end encryption (E2EE) has taken place in a slightly surreal way.

In the main, not entirely, we are talking about things companies choose to do or want to do. Yet there has been little or no mention of what generally motivates companies or allows tech to grow: money. Business models. Current or hoped for.  I will detail some of these in my next blog. Meanwhile…

Repeated statements are also made about a “lack of consensus” about how or whether to proceed with E2EE when, actually, what is meant is different sets of geeks or companies disagree with each other.

The opinions of geeks  and companies matter. Of course they do, but now technology is so pervasive in our personal, cultural, political, societal and children’s lives geeks’ and shareholders’ or business executives’ opinions aren’t the only ones that count.

The smart ones have known that for a long time. How they have acted on that knowledge varies enormously. Smartness is not a synonym for virtue.

What kind of world do we want to live in?

At least in part the discussion about E2EE is now about the kind of world we want to live in and in that respect the opinion of a geek or a business is no more or less important than that of a short-order cook or an accountant.

It’s never too late to start doing the right thing

In the liberal democracies our elected leaders have been slow getting to this point and it is pressure from citizens, voters, politics, that has, finally, edged them this way. What happens in totalitarian states raises different issues.  All I will say on that for now is it is absurd to allow Kim Jong-un to decide policy for Nebraska or Orpington.

The idea of tech and technologists as guardians of democracy and human rights died some time ago. The living proof of that is paraded before us daily on our TV screens, in our inboxes and on social media.  Everybody understands technology has a great capacity to do evil or facilitate it. Not everybody knows how to protect or insulate themselves from it.

Tech should be a servant not a master 

The techies should show some humility and accept their proper role. As servants not masters in a quest to stamp out or any rate reduce evil.

However, even when companies and geeks claim they are unequivocally on the side of the angels and only doing good, recent history tells us that may not actually be what is happening, whether the company knows it or not.

In the end what we have, therefore,  is not a tech problem. It’s a trust problem.

Easy to say. Not so easy to come up with a solution.

To be continued. Very soon.

About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International, Technical Adviser to the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online, which is administered by Save the Children Italy and an Advisory Council Member of Beyond Borders (Canada). Amongst other things John is or has been an Adviser to the United Nations, ITU, the European Union, the Council of Europe and European Union Agency for Network and Information Security and is a former Executive Board Member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. He is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John has advised many of the world's largest internet companies on online child safety. In June, 2012, John was appointed a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. This was renewed in 2018. More: http://johncarrcv.blogspot.com
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