Digitization depends on trust

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Revolutions are frightening. That also goes for the fourth industrial revolution – the digitization and networking of all areas, both in the business world and private life – which will perhaps bring about the biggest changes humanity has ever seen.

Dr. Thomas Kremer, Board member for Data Privacy, Legal Affairs and Compliance

Dr. Thomas Kremer, Board member for Data Privacy, Legal Affairs and Compliance

As early as 1965, Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, observed that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit, and thus the performance of the chip, would double every two years. His prediction proved correct. A similar trend is observable in the volume of data generated, which is growing exponentially. Cisco, a supplier of network equipment, reckons that by 2020 there will 50 billion connected devices worldwide: from refrigerators and cars through to production machinery. At the same time, new business models are arising that are shaking up established industries – and even impacting small and medium-sized businesses. Companies can offer accommodation via the Internet, for example, without having any rooms of their own, and taxi services can exist without their own fleets. Without doubt, this is just the beginning.

This trend – and the breathtaking speed with which it is unfolding – is making many people anxious. Internet giants like Google and Facebook have enormous volumes of user data that they can deploy for personalized advertising. Who knows what things about me? Am I still making my own decisions or am I remote-controlled? What happens if vitally important systems are hacked? Germany has a tradition of high standards when it comes to data protection and data security. The question is how these standards can be preserved in the new digital age. Digitization cannot succeed without the support of people – and that depends on trust.

It is the task of the corporate world and government to create a basis for that trust. That requires security solutions, transparency and strict data protection standards. At the IT Summit, businesses and public-sector institutions adopted a charter to strengthen trustworthy communication. Among other things, that charter obliges them to put in place secure and simple end-to-end encryption. In partnership with the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology SIT, Deutsche Telekom is now developing a solution to encrypt e-mails between sender and recipient, enabling the electronic communication of private individuals and enterprises to be protected simply and free of charge. External experts can check the source code of the software – a level of transparency that allows everyone to ascertain that there are no “back doors” into the encryption solution.

There can be no trust without transparency, which means that enterprises and public-sector institutions will have to get used to communicating much more openly – especially where cyber attacks and security flaws are involved. They are certainly going to find it hard to adapt. After all, who likes to admit that their system has been hacked? But such admissions are the only way to achieve a high overarching level of security. The public at large can learn from the experiences of individuals. The security barometer of the “Deutschland sicher im Netz” [Making Germany safe on the Net] initiative is an indicator of the current threat potential on the web. This tool has now been made available as an app, which also includes specific offers of assistance. That, too, is a step toward more transparency and throwing more light on digital security risks.

What is more, we have an opportunity in Europe to combine high data protection standards with new digital business models, and the legal foundations for this are currently being laid down by the EU in Brussels. By means of specific rules for anonymization, pseudonymization and gaining the consent of users, we can develop a European approach to business models based on data analysis. The alternative would be for us to sell our data abroad as a raw material and buy back finished products – Europe as a digital colony, if you will. To prevent that from happening, we need to have uniformly high data protection standards in place across Europe, which all companies offering their services here have to comply with. The only way that people will begin to trust digitization is if it respects their autonomy.

In addition to serving on the Board of Management of Deutsche Telekom, Thomas Kremer is chairman of the association Deutschland sicher im Netz e. V. This article originally appeared as a blog on the association’s website.