Keep your technology close — but your customers closer

The intersection of new technology and privacy has been in the media a lot recently with concerns raised over the security and accessibility of the federal government’s MyHealth data. 

One thing the debate has highlighted is the crucial role that communication and keeping the community informed plays in the successful uptake of any new technology. 

The end user of any new technology must form their opinion based on the quality of the information available to them, and they often judge it against the yard stick of conventional social norms. This is why it is so crucial that technology developers engage with their end users, whether they be consumers or the general public, as closely and as early as possible. 

An infamous case in point involved the development of a technology that has been the stuff of science fiction for years, and that one might have thought would have been readily adopted by an eager, tech-hungry public. And it happened to, none other than, Google.  

“The lesson to learn here is that not only must we engage with our end users during the development of new technologies, but often we should seek their input before any work has even begun.”

In 2011, it was revealed that Google was working on a game-changing technology—smart glasses—when they quietly applied for several new patents. Google Glass ‘Explorer’ was officially launched in June 2012 with a strategy that involved an extremely limited release of the glasses to select ‘consumers’ who would offer feedback on the product. It was hoped that tweaks based upon this feedback and new iterations to the glasses could be made before a major market roll-out. 

However, it wasn’t long before the general public started to become suspicious of the new technology, with privacy issues becoming a major concern. When people learned that they could be unwittingly recorded by wearers of the glasses at any moment without their knowledge, a negative public backlash arose. This potential to invade people’s privacy had owners of the glasses dubbed ‘glassholes’. 

Privacy issues were soon echoed by businesses, including banks, restaurants, museums and cinemas, and before Google could release their hot new consumer product onto the mass market, it was dead in the water.   

The lesson to learn here is that not only must we engage with our end users during the development of new technologies, but often we should seek their input before any work has even begun.  

The successful adoption of all new technologies relies upon a social licence from its user base. And often a new technology’s first test is how it integrates with and respects our existing social norms and accepted conventions. 

In the case of the MyHealth debate, it was found that those in earlier research groups who had the technology and its benefits explained to them were overwhelming in support of its adoption. However, the message of these benefits has had to jostle amid a diverse range of views presented in the media.  

It is in this crowded landscape of messaging that those who have engaged with their end users from the start of their technology journeys, responding to their concerns and keeping them informed with accurate and transparent information, who stand the best chance of their technology being received with trust and confidence. 

That is our responsibility as ones charged with developing innovative technologies. And the reward? Well that should be clear for all to see.