Given the inherent cybersecurity risks of software, and the growing ubiquity of software in everyday objects, trust has become a crucial corporate asset.

In his article, “Cybersecurity Is Putting Customer Trust at the Center of Competition”, Andrew Burt, Chief Privacy Officer at data management firm Immuta, attributes the ascendance of trust in business to two related trends: an all-encompassing reliance on software, and the ever-increasing dangers of digital technology. In order to build and maintain trust in this environment, companies must not only prioritize data privacy and security, but make their customers aware of this priority.

When the Norwegian government realized that nearly all of its critical technology came from outside the country, it raised pressing national security questions. Security researcher Olav Lysne was appointed to lead a commission to assess the risk and determine what the government could do to determine whether it could depend on its software. Lysne’s answer was that the government simply could not verify the trustworthiness of the software it used. This is the nature of software.

The massive volume of code of which software is comprised, and the endless ways in which it can be compromised, writes Burt, “makes trust both the most important aspect of any commercial interaction and the hardest to measure”.  

Trustworthiness cannot be proven, but it can be instilled, and branding, marketing and public relations can play a role. Apple CEO Tim Cook has seized upon this idea, and spent the past few years putting trust at the centre of Apple’s public image. In 2016, for example, Apple raised issues with the U.S. government about access to user data – and focused a PR campaign on the company’s actions. In publishing the article “You Deserve Privacy Online. Here's How You Could Actually Get It” this year in Time magazine, Cook clearly casts himself as a champion of data privacy.

There are lessons in this for all companies as digital technology makes its way into just about every area of endeavour. For one, trust must be a key feature of every product, whether it is a digital product or a physical product that contains software. Given that customer trust, or lack thereof, can have significant business impact, it should be a value proposition in itself.

A company’s commitment to cybersecurity must also be demonstrated. Burt writes in Harvard Business Review that “clear and demonstrable processes must be put in place to illustrate the importance of data protection”. If organizations do not genuinely take data protection seriously, they risk losing trust. Once a company has legitimate processes in place to protect its customers’ data, it can start telling the world.

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