The technology industry is facing an "erosion of trust" from customers because of concerns over privacy violations and cybersecurity problems, Hewlett-Packard's general counsel said Tuesday.
Privacy and cybersecurity problems are accompanying the creation of many innovative new products from the U.S. technology industry, said Michael Holston, HP's executive vice president and general counsel. The U.S. technology industry needs to work together to come up with new privacy standards and improved cybersecurity protections, he said during a forum on innovation at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
"What is common, frankly, between privacy and cybersecurity issues is that innovation is generating new risks as well as expectations for increased organizational accountability," he said. "With all of these challenges and issues come huge opportunities to be smart about technology innovation and strengthen trust."
The tech industry should work with other industries and the U.S. government to "harness our collective capability" to protect privacy and secure cyberspace while creating innovative new products, Holston said.
Holston pointed to recent privacy controversies at Facebook and, although he didn't name it, Google, while suggesting that the tech industry needs to do a better job protecting privacy. May 31 was Quit Facebook Day, over concerns about changes in the site's privacy controls, he noted, but fewer than 40,000 people pledged to leave the social-networking site on QuitFacebook.com.
Still, the campaign received significant media attention and there seem to be growing concerns about online privacy from U.S. residents, Holston said. Lawmakers in the U.S. have released a draft of a privacy bill, and European Union regulators are talking about rewriting their privacy rules by the end of the year, he noted.
In addition, the growing popularity of cloud computing will require "new ground rules" focused on privacy and security, he said.
If the U.S. tech industry doesn't better focus on both privacy and cybersecurity, "consumers will react negatively and regulators may have to step in," Holston said.
New laws, however, will struggle to keep up with new forms of data use, collection and storage, he said. "Given the length of time it takes to enact or revise [privacy] laws, the legislative solutions invariably will continue to lag behind the next innovation or business model being adopted by consumers," he said.
Earlier during the innovation forum, Ruth Simmons, president of Brown University in Rhode Island, called on universities to band together to offer science, technology, engineering and math programs for high school students. The U.S. needs a concerted and coordinated effort to attract students to science fields in order to avoid being surpassed by countries like China and India, she said.
Simmons also questioned whether U.S. universities could continue to give scholarships to students without putting conditions on what subjects they major in. Many countries require students receiving scholarships to major in targeted fields, including science and technology, she said.
"We can't compete with countries that demand that students study in certain fields," she said.
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