Even before the coronavirus disrupted everything, we already depended on the biggest tech companies for much of our daily lives. We just didn't know how much until the rest of our lives were put on hold. It took a pandemic to see how dependent we've become on things like one-day shipping and social media.
Of course, new technologies have found a place as well. Zoom wasn't a thing for most people until it became the primary tools for face-to-face conversations in a world of social distancing and stay at home orders.
Now, however, as we look for ways to get back to whatever the world will look like when we all start going back to work, or to church, or to kids' soccer games, or school, almost every public health expert agrees that contact tracing will play an important role.
That's one of the reasons so many people are looking to the partnership between Apple and Google with such high expectations. The two companies combined represent more than 95 percent of the mobile devices used in the world, which puts them in a position to actually move the needle by making contact tracing apps able to communicate across all of those devices.
There is a problem, however, and it has nothing to do with the technology. Instead, the biggest problem is with trust.
We've always had an interesting relationship with the technology companies that collect and monetize our personal information. In exchange, we rationalized, we get to use their services for free. Google, for example, doesn't charge us for the ability to search the breadth and depth of the internet for the information we're looking for. Instead, it simply targets us with ads. The model has worked really well, especially for Google.
Over the past few years, however, people have started to reconsider whether the cost of giving up all that personal information is worth it.
Which, leads us, again, to the problem of trust.
In almost no other area is trust of paramount importance then when it comes to information about our health. People may be willing to tolerate their online activity being tracked for ads, but that's a lot different than tracking their health--or transmitting data about who has been exposed to a virus during a pandemic.
Apple and Google have gone to great lengths to talk about the privacy protection associated with their contact tracing and exposure notification technology. For example, the technology doesn't use location-based information and doesn't provide personal information about devices when transmitting the encrypted keys used to determine proximity to exposure.
That doesn't change the fact that people are skeptical about what will happen with the information generated about them. And a lack of overall trust when it comes to tech companies means that there is a general skepticism even when they claim the technology is anonymous.
Trust doesn't happen overnight. It develops over time, through every interaction--both good and bad. That's what makes it such a valuable asset, and why, right now, it's a problem that tech companies haven't earned more of it.
The lesson here is this: None of us are able to get through this without each other, which includes the giant tech companies we've invited into our lives. We have to be able to trust these companies to help us. Said another way, now more than ever, trust matters.