Why do we need to invest in ethical tech? Is there a place in the world for “ethical startups”? We discussed these questions, and more, on last week’s show of the GoodTech Vidcast. With us was investor, author, educator and pioneer, Tony Fish. Proceed to read a recap of the show, or watch it in its entirety here.

The investment in ethical tech

Tony works with executives on the boards of FTSE 100 companies, exploring what data really means for their businesses. He asks the executives what a board meeting will look like in 2025, and if they believe it’ll be the same, or if it’ll be fundamentally different. He says, “By 2025, finance data will be one of a series of means of data they need to be really deeply engaged with. It’s the linkages between those data sets which is going to be their complexity and struggles. That hasn’t revealed itself yet, because the reality is they’re going to be held accountable for it. If you’re going to be accountable and responsible for the decisions you make, and it’s going to be public and traceable, there’s going to be a very different attitude to the way, effectively, governments will run themselves.”

We ask Tony why we aren’t seeing more investment in ethical tech, and he tells us there’s never an easy answer to that. “Part of investment philosophy itself is changing and has continually changed,” he says. “There is a series of economic movements, which means that you no longer need the same level of investment that was needed.” He continues by drawing a parallel between privacy and veganism. “Only a few years back, no one really wanted to go vegan because vegan food had no flavor, but today, vegan food has become incredibly tasty. Before, people wouldn’t dream of giving up their bacon sandwich because they absolutely loved the flavors, but now you can have vegan food that actually is incredibly full of flavors. As soon as you do that, people go ‘you know what, I will order some vegan food because I know it’s going to be nice, and I’m not particularly vegan or anything, but I love good food. And if it’s good food and it tastes well, I’ll eat it’. So what you see is that when it actually has value to the individuals, and they can enjoy what they’re doing, people will adopt and change. The issue with privacy, it’s still a bacon sandwich. It’s not about the tech, it’s about the engagement and why you’re doing things.”

We’ve never heard of a bacon sandwich as a metaphor for privacy, but we agree with the sentiment. Choosing privacy over data exploitation is an easy step, but it’s a step that is still being overlooked by a lot of people. Even though we find the alternatives as – if not more – functional and accessible, it’s still seen as a challenge to care for one’s privacy rights. We need more engagement around privacy, if we don’t want to remain a bacon sandwich forever. And we definitely don’t.

What needs to change about data regulation

We move on to talk about regulations around data. Are the regulations going to make the data-driven economy more difficult to succeed? Tony tells us, “Most businesses that are in GDPR coverage land, effectively have created data business models which effectively exploit the data of the users for their own game. In the users mind, these businesses sit in a position of exploitation and no trust. But, the reality is that we keep using the services because the services are useful. So it’s not about usefulness, or value to us, but we understand the exchange. What the regulator has done with GDPR is try to regulate businesses in that grouping. Now, what branding does is allow companies to be perceived as non-exploitative and trusted. So, they basically change their market position. But fundamentally, the business model sits exactly exploiting data and no trust. Rather than trying to regulate businesses, the regulator should force businesses into the trusted and non-exploitative mode. Therefore, you regulate around businesses that create value for users.”

He continues by saying that if we keep regulating people by just saying: “Get better or we’re going to fine you”, there will be no behavior change. Instead, we have to turn around and say: “Your privacy policy is xyz, and if you break your privacy policy you go to prison”. “Doing so would make us see change overnight,” Tony says.

The different mindset of millennials

We talk to Tony a little bit about the New Year. 2020 is here, and with it comes a lot of expectations. For Tony, 2020 will become a fascinating generation, which is partly because millennials are suddenly going to become a massively important force. “Baby boomers are exiting the market in terms of their power and control. I think we’re going to see enormous change in the way policies are formed. Greta Thunberg, and what she’s doing in forcing people to look at issues, is brilliant. So much has been controlled as policy by baby boomers, because they had the economic ability to control. So, in ten years I think we’ll see change beyond belief in the way we do things,” Tony says.

Before fast forwarding ten years, what about now? Is there a place for companies whose success does not rely on data mining or ad-based business models? Tony says that there is, since so much is changing. The millennials are rejecting things from the baby boomers’ generation – they rent cars instead of buying, they lease houses instead of owning. He says, “The millennials are coming to the workforce with a very different way of thinking. Investors are changing their sentiment, because the people who are starting to invest are changing. The investment philosophies are starting to change on every single level.”

We ask Tony how this becomes sustainable, and he gives Sainsbury’s, a supermarket in the UK, as an example. Sainsbury’s promised to reduce plastics, but when the data came through, it showed that they haven’t done it in the way they promised they would. Actually, the technology they’re choosing to use is more environmentally damaging than the actual plastics. “So the data is starting to say: ‘Guys, it’s not good enough just to promise and not deliver, you’ve got to actually close the loop and create sustainable ecosystems,’” Tony says. He continues by saying that after that, the millennials are coming in and saying that the way the companies are doing things is only creating value for one part, and that’s not good enough. The millennials want to create value for lots of parties, and create sustainability. “And therefore, that’s why so much investment philosophy is changing, because the people making the investment decisions, and the people doing businesses, are of a completely different mindset. Super exciting!”

We are inspired by Tony’s optimism and faith in the millennial generation. It might take time, but we’re going forward together. If you’re struggling to find a place to do just that, we invite you to join the privacy-conscious group Privacy2020. If you’d like to hear from industry experts and peers, share your voice, or join the movement for the protection of privacy as a human right, simply sign up for a free personal account on idka.com and enter Privacy2020 in the search box. Anyone can join!

We look forward to hearing from you!