The influence of Trust on Regulation

Massive amounts of data used by intelligent technologies such as robotic process automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and blockchain are reshaping our world. The next frontier will take us even further, with developments such as quantum computing.

These intelligent technologies present new opportunities but also new risks. The public has deep concerns over how data and technology are being used; business leaders suffer the uncertainty of what they can confidently do without breaching rules or risking reputational damage. Together, this is slowing the adoption of intelligent technologies and limiting their possibilities.

For business, it has become a question of trust. Trust is the credibility required from customers, suppliers, markets and ecosystems for businesses to operate successfully. Enterprises can’t get past the gate and into the value creation zone without it. In essence, organizations will struggle to create long-term value unless trusted data is flowing through them

Today’s disruptions are creating a slew of new products, services, and ideas to enjoy. Transit, hospitality, financial services, supply chain management and so on are all innovating and challenging the status quo, reimagining how we go about our daily lives, how we interact and connect with each other, and how we should set rules that are in the public’s best interest.

Setting rules that are fit for purpose is key to unlocking technology’s and new business models’ full potential. What may have worked in the past is being upended, in this fast-paced, constantly shifting environment. But it is not just the digital platform revolution where the future of regulation applies. It also applies to other areas of import, like employment. Consider the changing contours of work and the workplace.

Regulators around the world have launched a bewildering number of antitrust lawsuits and investigations against the big tech firms: Amazon, Apple, Facebook (now known as Meta) and Google. Each focuses on a different part of the conglomerate, from Apple’s App Store to Google’s advertising data. Scarcely a day passes without an existing case making headlines or a new one popping up.

That is unlikely to change in 2022. But instead of trying to make sense of this ever-changing legal smorgasbord, it is more edifying to follow what lawmakers are up to. While lawsuits drag on (and often end with not much to show for all the effort), 2022 will be the year when the world’s parliaments and regulators start to pass substantial rules to govern the tech industry. It will therefore be possible to guess which country (or region) might develop the world’s best competition framework.

Global policymaking on digital assets is very fragmented, partly because much of it has been a scramble to keep pace with market changes and emerging threats. Another factor is the absence of an authority to oversee a truly international effort. While banking regulators agree with global policies under the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, digital assets have no equivalent convening body.

Some suggest that even the Financial Stability Board, which includes the finance ministers of some of the world’s biggest economies, is not a broad enough forum because the questions around digital assets stretch beyond finance into fields such as technology and into wider society.

In early 2021 it seemed that the European Union would win, hands down. Its executive branch, the European Commission, had just introduced the Digital Markets Act (DMA), the first law aimed at regulating big tech “ex-ante” — that is, constraining firms’ behaviour upfront, rather than punishing them after the fact with antitrust cases. The idea is to prohibit the gatekeepers of important digital markets, such as apps and online search, from engaging in unfair practices, such as discriminating against rivals that use their platforms.

The idea is to prohibit the gatekeepers of important digital markets from engaging in unfair practices

Other governments have caught up and in some ways overtaken the EU. For starters, there is China, which surprised the world in 2021 by seriously tightening competition rules for its internet giants. As in other policy fields, authorities in Beijing have taken more than one page from the EU’s book. Yet enforcement comes with Chinese characteristics. Firms are asked for swift “self-rectification”. And it is not clear if they have any official recourse if they feel unfairly treated.

China’s crackdown makes America look even further behind: although a regulatory and cultural “techlash” has raged for years now, the results have been meager. That may change in 2022. As with antitrust lawsuits, a confusing number of tech bills have been proposed in Congress: the House of Representatives has moved forward with half a dozen. Some Republicans, who claim that the big platforms want to censor them, may yet team up with Democrats to pass DMA-like legislation.

Yet it is Britain that appears to have the best setup so far, though it is not fully implemented. Its Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) now has a Digital Markets Unit (DMU). The government is working on new regulation, to be passed in 2022, that would empower the DMU, like Germany’s FCO, to give tech firms “strategic market status” and require them to follow stricter rules.

The main difference is that the CMA, even more than the FCO, has invested in relevant resources. Its researchers have published some of the best studies of the market for digital advertising.

The CMA also boasts a Data, Technology and Analytics team, which consistently recruits data scientists in order to close the wide knowledge gap between tech titans and their regulators.

Social scientists from various disciplines have identified trust as an important feature of well-functioning and prosperous societies. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the creation of trust is a regulatory goal in several sectors of society, i.e. legislation is being used with the intention to create trust.

For the next normal, people are expecting organizations to be kind and think human. Recognizing the relevance of privacy brings the individual to the centre of the conversation to create trust and generate value beyond just compliance or risk reduction. The question should not be why, but how.

Today’s business decisions are data-driven. How effective these decisions are will depend on the accuracy of the data. How human they are will depend on getting positive consent from the individuals impacted, as well as full commitment from other stakeholders involved in properly protecting data and making decisions on their processing based on a well thought set of principles.

This is data trust, the action of using data with all stakeholders in mind and based on four fundamental pillars: stewardship, ethics, protection and privacy.

By defining a proactive data trust strategy that incorporates effective privacy elements, organizations can achieve the following benefits:
• Incorporation of controls earlier in the design of processes and tools to increase effectiveness and reduce costs
• Identification of value generators for key stakeholders
• Increased trust in the organization’s brand by creating trust by design

Finally, risk is everywhere – and changing rapidly. New technologies, demographic shifts and globalization are happening as we see a reinvention of industry, consumption and even the very future of work. While this unprecedented transformation is revealing new opportunities, there are also many new risks for companies to navigate. Building a foundation of trust is an important first step in turning digital disruption into long-term value. The board’s role here is critical. Boards today are challenged to help steer companies through a shifting risk terrain, overseeing a dynamic risk management approach that embraces disruption and enhances resiliency and trust.

Without trust, you can’t create value. In the Transformative Age, with more data changing hands and more technology used in decision-making, trust is more important than ever. It’s trust that enables organizations to create value and capital markets to function properly. With richer insights from deeper data analysis, you can look at risk afresh. You can make smarter choices, from what you should mitigate to what you can embrace. With trust comes the confidence to make bolder strategic moves. It’s trust that will help you seize the upside of disruption.

In the words of Paul Samuelson – American economist:

“I’m not speaking in favor of killing innovation. I’m speaking in favor of centrist use of the market, which involves necessarily a considerable degree of regulation. Markets by themselves will get themselves inevitably into inequality and into their own destruction. It will happen again and again.”

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