Months before Donald Trump became the president-elect of the U.S. someone asked me to do a deep dive into what he would mean for the tech industry. At the time I said I couldn’t do it because Trump didn’t seem to have any deeply held beliefs about technology.
Like many older politicians, he seemed to view it as an add-on instead of something that is part of the fabric of life as we live it today. Plus, there was always the sense that Trump would say anything on the campaign, whether it was about a wall or deporting a few million American citizens because of their religious beliefs.
How could someone trying to understand his tech policy trust in anything he was saying?
But the electorate has spoken and Trump is now the president-elect. So now every tech journalist has to figure out what his presidency will mean for tech. For me, this means the internet of things.
The biggest impact will likely be felt as a matter of momentum. The Obama administration believed that tech was a powerful tool to advance long-term human goals such as improving longevity. Witness the precision medicine effort that allocated research funding to try to cure cancer using personalized medicine enabled by big data and cheap computing.
At the same time, the Obama administration was aware of the potential for civil rights violations and injustice that could be wrought when applying biased data or releasing certain types of data into the wrong hands.
Will Trump’s administration turn to science and technology in a similar way, while also understanding the risks? It’s doubtful. So far Trump’s proposed cabinet picks are established Trump loyalists as opposed to those with tremendous technology and scientific experience.
Trump’s administration seems more focused on trade issues that could lead to an increase in the cost of tech manufactured elsewhere and imported here. That could have negative implications for everything from the cost of chips used in connected devices to the physical assembly of products like connected door locks and light bulbs.
Outside of Trump’s challenge to the current trade agreements, I’m concerned that Trump’s attention to fossil fuels and promise to cut Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce pollution at power plants, means that electric vehicles and energy conservation programs that rely on connected devices will likely lose subsidies and importance.
That also has implications for smart cities, since many of those programs start with replacing older, less efficient lighting with newer, connected street lamps that use LEDs. Some of that funding comes from local governments and grant programs, but there are also programs such as the Department of Transportation’s $40 million smart city competition that may lose out as a priority.
However, if cities de-emphasize their “green” focus, smart cities may get a boost. According to the Trump transition web site: “Americans deserve a reliable and efficient transportation network and the Trump Administration seeks to invest $550 billion to ensure we can export our goods and move our people faster and safer. We will harness technology and make smarter decisions on how we build and utilize our infrastructure.”
That’s vague but could be promising if that money actually materializes.
Trump isn’t a fan of regulations as anyone who reads his plan for his first 100 days in office or his transition web site can see. This may benefit some areas of connected technology such as autonomous cars, where too much regulation may stymie innovation. On the flip side, having a federal rule here would help companies work toward a common standard as opposed to having to certify their cars in each state or municipality.
Trump has promised to eliminate “red tape” at the FDA to speed up drug approvals. That may extend to new forms of connected medical devices.
Aside from a general attitude and these areas there are questions. I’m waiting to hear Trump’s thoughts on encryption since that is vital for securing the internet of things. In February he came out against Apple’s pro-encryption stance when the FBI demanded the company let the FBI have a backdoor into the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter. Where does he stand today?
Based on this, many activists are using Trump’s election to renew calls on big companies to rethink their storage of user data storage, which has implications for any company with a connected device such as FitBit or Nest. A quick glance at Trump’s transition website and its privacy statement offers little comfort.
The data collected on that site is kept indefinitely, is shared with third parties and your personally identifiable information may be made available for “law enforcement purposes” and for site security. This isn’t all that different from other privacy policies on popular websites, although some delete data after a certain period of time. Not all sites share your information with third parties, either.
Again, we’ll learn more as time passes and Trump actually takes office. And like any president, Trump will also be forced to react to realities around him, dictated by outside events, budgets and even popular opinion.
So start working on that smart infrastructure proposal.