What I learned at Davos
So what did I learn at Davos? I came here with a mission to represent the needs of privacy and reputation on the Internet and excited about the prospect of the World Economic Forum's strong interest in cyber security.
This week strongly exceeded my expectations.
CEOs of companies in healthcare, Internet, infrastructure, hardware, software telecommunications and media, together with regulators from the United States and Europe, embraced important ideas including:
- End users should control their personal data.
- Huge revenue streams are possible from novel ways to monetize personal data that also directly compensate consumers for access to their information.
- Companies are increasingly targets of sophisticated organized crime on the Internet.
- Cyber warfare is a real and growing threat to state institutions and businesses.
- Powerful tools are required to solve each of the above.
None of these issues was either on the table or high profile as recently as a year ago. Engagement with them represents a significant achievement for the congress here in Davos and an essential step forward for the private and public interests that depend on their resolution.
This is a constant fight. In most areas of technology, there is an underlying assumption that the device's functionality is binary: It either works or it doesn't. You flip the switch, and the light goes on. If it doesn't, that means that the bulb is out or the circuit breaker needs a quick reboot. You fix it and move on. In other words, in most technical questions, the process of innovation comes down to figuring out how to defeat specific obstacles, defeating them and never having to revisit them. It's different in cyber security. Threats to digital data appear, reappear, adapt and reappear again. Solutions must adapt as nimbly. On the panel on which I participated this morning, one of my co-panelists referred to it as an arms race. That is a typical and apt analogy.
Threats to privacy and security evolve with blistering speed. That speed is accelerating further with the exponential proliferation of access points to the Internet like smartphones and tablets. Every dinosaur game app you download can (and probably does) access huge amounts of information on your phone that are totally unrelated to the actual functioning of the game. A simple game app can mine your phone numbers, emails, addresses, calendar and geo-location. In the anti-virus field, they call that a Trojan horse. When it comes to social media, though, the public still just thinks of it as a game. But that game can compromise you, your family, or your company.
I am leaving Davos encouraged. The work remains. It always remains. But the will is there.
Michael Fertik (@michaelfertikon Twitter) is the CEO of Reputation.com. He is also the author of "Wild West 2.0: How to Protect and Restore Your Reputation on the Untamed Social Frontier."
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| January 29, 2011; 4:29 PM ET
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