DAVOS, Switzerland — Trust, global consensus, government support for building infrastructure and inclusion are the main challenges of the digital future, a panel of technology leaders said here on Thursday at the World Economic Forum.
Five billion people are not online and “the only way this changes is if it gets cheaper,” said Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook.
Ms. Sandberg made an impassioned plea for connecting more women to the Internet so that they can pass those benefits on to their children. “The benefits of getting women connected outweigh the benefits of getting men connected,” she said, noting that women were less likely to have phones, be connected to the Internet and to know how to use their phones.
Her call for more inclusion drew spontaneous applause from the audience in the huge Congress Center in Davos, where she spoke with Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google; Satya Nadella, the chief executive of Microsoft; and Vittorio Colao, the chief executive of Vodafone.
The panel turned into a bit of a technology lovefest. Mr. Schmidt said the Internet was the greatest tool for empowering citizens in many years and said that everyone was smarter because of technology. (He didn’t seem to qualify that many had no access to it.) Mr. Colao compared the Internet to oxygen and water – needed by everyone.
The outlook was not so sunny on a separate technology panel titled in “In Tech We Trust.” Marc Benioff, the chairman and chief executive of Salesforce.com, said that trust had been fundamentally broken between customers and technology companies and required drastic change.
“Only through radical transparency will we get radical new levels of trust, which is where we need to get to,” Mr. Benioff said.
Technology companies have varying track records of using their customers’ data for varying purposes, including making lots of money.
Marissa Mayer, the chief executive of Yahoo, said that customers had to be empowered to make trade-offs, which would require giving them more consent.
“You need to have transparency but you also need to afford the individual choice and control,” she said.
She added that many web users want a personalized experience, which required giving up some privacy. “It’s not possible to personalize but not know it’s you,” she said.
Michael Fries, the chief executive of Liberty Global, said that his company had masses of data that it had opted not to monetize – yet.
He said Liberty “probably has access to 50 billion hours of viewing from 27 million customers” but that “we generate zero revenue form that.”
The consensus seemed to be that trust was a big problem, but many pointed out that the government’s demands on technology companies was equally, or more, unsettling.
That prompted Ms. Mayer to note that Yahoo had sued on behalf of its customers and users to protect their privacy.
Mr. Benioff said his company was diligent about protecting its customers’ data. But he was questioned by an audience member about another company he owns that crowdsources personal data and sells it.
“You can opt out,” he said.
That prompted Tim Berners-Lee, a professor of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the creator of the web’s bedrock software standards, to wonder how one even finds out about all the entities that collect data on people.
“How do I know all these places I need to opt out?” he asked. “Do I need to come here?”
vía New York Times