What makes trust important in Digital Services

We make up small trust-agreements everyday. We trust the store clerk not to skim our credit card. We trust the bus driver to take us to the correct place at a fair price. Trust is essential to our society and to our economic structure. These are the mechanisms that should be transfered to digital services. To understand the backdrop of this, we need to look at the numbers beyond the one-to-one transactions. After the revelations in 2011, where it was shown that NSAs PRISM program collects, process and surveillance data from American companies, the companies started to move their server parks to other countries with stricter privacy legislations. Businesses, such as the American e-mail service Lavabit, shut down right after Snowden revealed the program, and the founder stated that «…he would not be complicit in ‘crimes against the American people». As a direct result of the revelations regarding the PRISM program, the U.S cloud computing industry alone is estimated to lose up to 35 billion dollars over the course of three years14. Trust, or the lack of trust in this case is solely responsible for this big black hole in the American economy.

The absence of trust might have some benefits. Accodring to David DeSteno, a PhD in social psychology at Northeastern University, trust is crucial to our social interactions and that distrust can be equally important. He claims that no matter how polite we are, how nice the community is, or how well designed a website is; ulterior motives and sketchy behaviors are everywhere, and we should be able to detect them.

The NSA surveillance revelations have not only a ected the ICT industry. It highly a ects personal online behavior as well, according to a blogpost by Bruce Schneier, an American writer and chief technology o cer at Resilient Systems, and fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center. He looks with skepticism on how the survey Internet Security and Trust, commissioned by The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is presented through the media. Among the over 23.000 participants, 60% have heard of Edward Snowden, and 39% of those did take steps to protect their online privacy and security as a result of the revelations. Schneier points out that the media often writes “merely 39 percent” or similar, undermining the numbers. He puts up a mathematical example to prove his point: There are 250 million people living in Indonesia. 17% of the Indonesian people use the Internet, that is about 43 million people. If about 39% of them have taken steps to protect their privacy online, that equals 17 million people. Schneier makes in his words a conservative assumption saying that if 20% of the rest of the world use the Internet and 40% of the users have taken measures regarding their privacy, that would equal 400 million people. He further writes that probably not everyone have acted on it, but the fact that 400 million people says that they are willing to change their behaviour is extraordinary.

“Name another news story that has caused over ten percent of the world’s population to change their behavior in the past year?” (From Bruce Schneiers blogpost, 2012)

Cory Doctorow writes an entry on boingboing.net where he states that we are on the peak of indifference to surveillance. The Danish director of Netlab, Niels Ole Finnemann states that citizens will be divided between those who prefer convenience and those who prefer privacy in the future. Whether you agree with Schneier, Doctorow or Finneman; the fact that 10% of the world’s population is willing to change their behavior because they do not trust what a system says quite a bit on how important it is to handle trust as a key asset in Internet enabled services.