Digital innovation needs a pause button, or at least a handbrake

Credit: studiostoks /

It is not just the election of Donald Trump that gives us pause for thought (and a variety of other emotions – see Facebook for most of them). There seem to be a host of other issues that have emerged recently which add to the need to stop and reflect.

Top of the list must be security.

The recent – and most worrying – event was the hacking of Tesco Bank and the resultant theft of money from 9,000 customers.

Yet hacking is but one issue. Another is the realization that a whole range of devices that make up the smart home (actually smart anything) are also channels for attack for a new and sophisticated cyber war. Even Russia is not immune (and is normally blamed for attacks) as five banks were under a DDoS siege for days.

We need, surely, to pause and make sure that we are as close behind the hackers and fraudsters as we possibly can be. Before we rush on making smart kettles, fridges and other household appliances, the makers of which know nothing about security.

Another area is privacy.

The only reason we are not in danger of creating a piecemeal, fragmented approach to privacy is that we have already done it. Almost every region and country is developing different privacy regimes. Not only does this create (more) confusion for customers, but increases the burden on companies trying to fund, create, market and distribute cool new services. It is inevitable that this fragmentation will happen because of different cultures, histories and outlooks. But a fundamental inequality is emerging between how telcos can use customer data and how digital service providers can. Surely there is room for common sense and a more common set of rules. Who knows, common sense based on what the customer wants.

Autonomous vehicles are another area where regulators and safety people have recently woken up and thought, “Hang on, is it actually safe to put cars on the roads that don’t have drivers?” The likelihood is that the answer is yes, but it is the nature of governments to ask the questions and create the rules. After all, they will be blamed if it goes wrong. And when a government asks a question, we know that it will take much longer than it would take a normal human being. The other worrying element to connected – never mind autonomous – vehicles, is, again, security. They can, and have been, hacked.

Disruptive.Asia is, as you know, all for disruption, all for progress and innovation.

But even we are alarmed. Not necessarily at the progress – generally speaking we feel good about that. What we are alarmed about is the twisting and turning that inevitably happens when regulator and safety monitors filter headlong innovation.

Of course, the pause will cause difficulties for companies. Some will go bust, some will have to find extra funding, some will have to lay people off. On the other hand Gartner guesses that the information security market will be worth $113.4 billion by 2020, so there is a silver lining.

We need to make sure that the next steps we take are not as dangerous as some believe them to be.

If we do not take a breath, the alternative is digital chaos.

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