Transparency Is The New Green
I have so many thoughts buzzing around my head about surveillance and what is happening with the NSA and Edward Snowden that it’s hard to know where to start. First, let me state that I am personally grateful to Snowden for exposing the extent of surveillance itself and maybe even more importantly the ridiculousness that is the legal framework within which it is conducted.
Second, Snowden’s choice of leaking the information from Hong Kong and his current travels is not a sideshow. The United States has created a legal situation where his presumption that he would NOT get a fair trial in the United States seems correct, which is a huge problem for a perceived democracy.
Snowden's acts, and those of fellow transparency pioneer Julian Assange show a clear trend in digital society that wants greater transparency, at all levels. There following draws uncanny parallels to that of the early years in the 'Green Movement', whose origins in the twentieth century with grassroots movements concerned with the wilderness, pollution and human health. Where early pioneers like Richard Douglas "Dick" Lamm challenges corporate America to think differently.
Digital Natives, those sometimes called 'The Facebook Generation' live in a world where they excessively share details on what they are doing, where they are, what they ate and who they are with. To this generation, transparency and open sharing are normal. The internet puts the power of information in the hands of the individual. Through digital services consumers are more empowered to product selection, reviews, referrals, price comparisons, and complex product understanding.
Transparency and surveillance has always been a huge concern in society, but the recent recession has made it clear that it is a necessity. Due to new regulations in the banking industry, it is now mandatory for banks to be more transparent with interest rates and fees. However, these are often muddied by complex terms and conditions or product disclosure statements written in a foreign language often associated with lawyers. For US consumers, one survey found that consumer interest in banking transparency is geared more towards fees and other account management practices. But a strong undercurrent of mistrust due to the event of the Global Financial Crisis question the legitimacy of those in control of our money.
However, achieving greater transparency is not always easy given the increasingly complex and dynamic nature of institutional activities. To proactively respond to consumer demand for transparency, companies should consider adopting a simplified model of disclosure statement.
The relatively recent trend towards providing clearer information to customers and using simple language among central banks across the globe is a strong indication that transparency is here to stay. However, fees and new stipulations will always be a necessity for banks.
What has been the impact of WikiLeaks? Many observers have raised the spectre of human rights violations as a consequence of the drop-by-drop release of otherwise confidential information. Prominent rights groups called on the whistleblower website to expunge the names of Afghans mentioned in the associated War Diary because of fears that they could be targeted by insurgents. Governments around the world attacked the site as threatening or undermining their national security, effective (i.e. discreet) diplomacy, the work if not lives of their officials abroad and so on. However, the negative impact of WikiLeaks on human rights has been greatly exaggerated and in no way outweighs its positive impact on greater human rights awareness.
WikiLeaks disclosed information of vital human rights interest to citizens around the world: information on violations of the laws of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, on human rights abuses and corruption in Kenya, Tunisia and Nigeria and on censorship in China and Russia. A number of military logs in the Afghanistan War Diary and the Baghdad air strike video footage appear to depict attacks on civilians by coalition forces that may amount to violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. WikiLeaks shed light on the ill treatment of civilians by the coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq that should have been the object of full official disclosure. Essentially, bringing to light the secretive acts of the United States government, and opening it to a public debate.
We shouldn’t take any comfort in the notion that this is just an issue for the government. The corporate world may be next. Recently there have been rumors that Wikileak’s next target is Bank of America. In addition a hacker group in support of Wikileaks took Mastercard’s website down for a period of time in retaliation for Mastercard blocking payments to Wikileaks.
Could transparency become a movement, like the green movement?
I think so. As momentum grows, transparency will move from a novel interest, to a collective movement and into the consciousness of society. Where is will shape the mind of the individual as a meaningful benchmark. In much the same manner that the green movement, organic food, acceptance of homosexuality and more. Over time society evolves to accept new norms, but for the Facebook generation, they are already there.
So if your organisation is targeting the Generation Y, The Digital Native or the Facebook Generation, prepare for transparency. It won't be an option, and if you hide the truth. The collective power of the digital native, will discover your secrets and punish you with their buying power.
The reality of the modern world is that if your doing something wrong behind closed doors. The Facebook Generation will find out, they will share what your doing, and you will be held accountable.