People, not products: digital citizenship and corporate responsibility

May 16, 2018 Christian Lanng

Editor’s Note: On May 25th, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will take effect. The GDPR is a new and far-reaching regulation that aims to provide greater protection of personal data for all EU residents. We applaud this action to strengthen the privacy rights of individuals, a value we’ve embedded into the foundation of Tradeshift. Christian Lanng, Founder and CEO of Tradeshift, offers his thoughts on the role of corporate responsibility and digital citizenship.

We live in an interesting time. We’ve never had less disease in the world and we have the lowest global unemployment rates in history. More people are wealthier than they have ever been and extreme poverty is at the lowest level ever. Modern technology, advancing faster than ever, is underpinning many of these societal achievements. Yet we at the same time seem to be more conflicted about technology in our daily lives than ever.

Technology comes up short

Every day, it seems there is a new and harrowing violation of personal data where technology is to blame. There’s Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. The data breaches of Equifax, Yahoo, and what seems like ages ago, Target. With each new breach, our feelings of connectedness, engagement, and control of our digital identities are lost. Understandably, people feel alienated and helpless in the face of technology. Social media stirs up viral rumors and populist animus. As people become disenfranchised and disconnected from the intrinsic value of technology, they’ll eventually revolt against what they perceive this technology stands for. Instead of standing for making the world better, right now technology is treating individuals as products, not people.

So what do we do about it?

How do we leverage technology to support people in a transparent and responsible way? The fact is, technology companies are shaping the world and ought to take responsibility for the world they’re changing. At Tradeshift, we design solutions that impact society. Therefore, we have the responsibility to put respect for people at the core of our business model as we work to democratize global trade and empower commerce for all.

When we talk about taking responsibility for our world, the answer isn’t dismissing the fears and anger of the disenfranchised. The answer isn’t pushing them away by telling them that they don’t understand technology or its benefits. The answer is pulling them in with a message that champions digital citizenship. We need to be able to say to the public, “You’re right. We have a responsibility to build technology in a way that makes life better, and we need to listen to you to understand what that looks like.” Technology can create solutions and we need to design what’s best for society. As a digital citizen, you have a right to be treated as a human, not as a product.

The future of digital citizenship

At Tradeshift, we believe in a digital social contract. We have an obligation to carefully steward the information you give to us. We have a very simple principle: the only way we’ll use data our users have entrusted us to process is in a way that delivers value back to our users, not to monetize them without their consent.

When we equalize access to the global economy, especially for small companies in emerging markets, we can transform a whole market. Everyone benefits from that. We believe that being a good corporate technological citizen is beneficial for everyone and leads to greater long-term success. That means sacrificing rapid viral growth for responsible stewardship. It means doing the right thing with the power of technology. It means taking the steps to make digital citizenship an inalienable right for all.

Get the full picture on Tradeshift’s commitment to data protection in our FAQ on GDPR

About the Author

Christian Lanng

Christian is the CEO and Co-founder of Tradeshift. Christian started his first technology company at age 19 and was the youngest Head of Division in the Danish Government, National IT and Telecom Agency. Christian is a recognized thought leader and Fortune 500 advisor, as well as a member of the Global Agenda Council on the Future of IT Software and Services, World Economic Forum. He frequently keynotes conferences on topics such as digital disruption and business agility, and supply chain sustainability.

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