Emerging Tech: Are CFOs Blind to the Risks?

It doesn't take Google Glass to see that the risks of disruptive technologies emerging within the enterprise must be taken seriously by CFOs.
Rob LivingstoneJune 3, 2013

It’s not news that the seemingly never-ending stream of new and disruptive technologies is affecting every aspect of society. When innovative, appealing and easy-to-use technologies come on to the market, the tech sugar hit craving kicks in for most and many individuals adopt new consumer technology almost without hesitation.

But the perfect storm of the individual’s love affair with new technology and your organization’s privacy and confidentiality position can leave CFOs and CEOs exposed to some serious risks. Case in point: Google Glass.

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The imminent global launch of Google Glass has already raised questions about how the gadget could run roughshod over both individual privacy and corporate confidentiality. The glasses can provide GPS, make phone calls, search the Web, send texts, and take photos and video. It is the last two of those capabilities that have raised eyebrows among privacy regulators who are worried Google Glass wearers will intentionally or accidentally record video and audio conversations without the consent of those being recorded.

In a recent bipartisan letter to Google CEO Larry Page, the U.S. Congress demanded answers to a range of questions about security and privacy, to which Google must reply by June 14.

The invasion of consumer technology is not a new phenomenon.  For instance, much has been made of the employee Bring-Your-Own-Device trend, where organizations are still coming to grips with the appropriate policy settings in allowing individuals to use their own smartphones and tablets for company purposes. Google Glass adds another dimension to this discussion.

Furthermore, Google Glass and other technology like it, has the potential to disrupt and undermine the organization’s control over surveillance. No longer the domain of your IT department, who is accountable for the policy-setting and governance of personally-owned consumer technology like Google Glass? This question should be asked within your organization.

At the same time, the benefit of technologies that allow people to do things their parents could never imagine possible can’t be ignored. A recent National Intelligence Council report, Global Trends 2030 – Alternative Worlds, identified individual empowerment as the No. 1 megatrend over the next 15 to 25 years. A combination of the progressive reduction in global poverty, increasing levels of education and the continued uptake of information and communications technology is expected to reshape how societies and countries operate.

One glaring example of what this could mean was seen in the role engaged and connected digital citizens recently played in helping track down the Boston Marathon bombers. Another example is the development of a smartphone application that allows people to scan the barcode on any product. The app traces the product’s ownership all the way to the parent company to help consumers make ethical purchasing decisions.

Global giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook have become our digital landlords. They hold commanding positions when it comes to reshaping the landscape in which citizens lead their lives and organizations conduct their business.  The problem is, their global reach and influence is challenging governments, regulators and those wanting to stop and think about whether there are any negatives associated with new technology.

Google Glass’ privacy implications could tip regulators or organizations into a new era of technology-prohibition.  However, history has shown that prohibition nearly always fails. In our instantaneous, digitally-connected and globalized world, borders are increasingly porous, and cloud-enabled devices like Google Glass would open up yet another vector for data and information leakage.

There are already some laws in place that would curb unauthorized photography and video recordings by Google Glass, such as the Surveillance Devices Act 2004, a law passed in Australia that prohibits recording a private conversation without the consent of the parties involved. The European Union and many other countries have similar legislation. But that doesn’t mean people won’t try to get away with it.

Additionally, the risk that Google Glass could be hacked has already materialized. The IT security landscape is a complex melee of players such as cybercriminals, hackers, cloud computing vendors and information security vendors, and the perpetual arms race between them all appears never-ending. It should be noted that Google is now inviting users to hack its product, a cost-effective way of getting others to test the product’s security capabilities—a very effective business model.

It’s not all bad news, though. Google Glass has many upside potential benefits if used for a defined business purpose, and with the appropriate due diligence. The key message for CFOs is to be fully aware of the potential implications of new and emerging technologies, and proactively adapt and adopt your governance, monitoring and policy models appropriately. Then revisit regularly to adapt to the volatile technology landscape.

Rob Livingstone, a former CIO, is the author of Navigating Through the Cloud. He runs an IT advisory practice and is also a Fellow at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Australia, where he teaches strategy and innovation in UTS’s flagship MBITM program. Visit Rob at or e-mail him at [email protected].