Trust is central to the functioning of the Internet. Security and privacy are key components that impact online trust and were not originally designed and built into the Internet. They have been added in layers over time which have not been completely successful. Think about all of the online hacking and threats that we can’t stop. No transactions, of any value, can be completed without an understanding of the online trust inherent in the transaction.
Trust is easy to grasp in the physical world, you have a direct relationship with the other party, you see them and most often directly and personally interact with them and often receive the results of the transaction. Online trust is a very different thing, you’re operating online without being able to physically interact with the other party, and you don’t even know all of the parties that are involved in your transaction. There are more parties involved in every transaction in addition to the service provider that you’re interacting with. Malicious online actors and hackers depend on this and are often able to insert themselves in a transaction without the main parties even being aware. This is why online trust is so important.
What is online trust? Online trust is the ability to perform online transactions with another party with confidence in knowing that you are executing the transaction with the other party that you think you are and will reliably receive the what you’re expecting. You should not have to be concerned with the risk of fraud, have a long relationship with the other party and have confidence that the transaction will be completed securely and without having to share unnecessary information.
Many factors impact online trust including technical, policy, environmental and even personal factors. The computer device and software that you’re using to perform the transaction, and the network connection being used are technical factors. Policy and regulatory factors play an important role in online transactions in e-commerce, government, financial, healthcare, and education, in transactions that involve children and in most of your online transactions. The policy implications of online trust will be a future blog topic. One’s personal expectations and views are also an important component of online trust. Much has been written about how millennials share all aspects of their lives, it’s natural to them, including what they’re doing moment to moment, where they are, and personal information. Older generations typically don’t hold the same attitudes and don’t like sharing their entire lives. These views certainly impact how each of these groups view online trust and what they would consider trustworthy when online.
In today’s online world there are some things that one controls related to online trust. Individuals can research the other party that they are considering performing a transaction with to confirm, to the best of their ability, that they are good actors. Individuals can choose to not engage in untrustworthy types of activities. We can keep our private information safe and not share it or post it to untrustworthy sites. Even with these guidelines for safe online practices there’s only so much that we can do ourselves and that’s within our control. These protective activities are far from insufficient to really protect our information and to assure that our own activities are kept trusted.
We have gotten so used to sharing our information in exchange for free services. Google and Facebook, and many others have built their entire businesses on this approach. We share our personal information, interests and desires, online shopping habits, location, activities and who we’re with. This is our information and it’s being used by companies to make money off of us. Do we trust this? Is this acceptable online trust? In most cases we’ve accepted it, or allowed it, or even approved it in exchange for something from the service provider. It could be a free service, information, access, or other things for which we’re exchanging our information. We’ve also become numb to this sharing of our personal information. This unconscious information sharing has implications.
Online trust has been impacted by many things. Companies wanting our information, hackers and thieves trying to steal things or cause havoc, organizations doing online things unintentionally (sometimes intentionally) that put our information and lives at risk and our own untrustworthy online actions.
Many believe that the current mechanisms for managing online trust, for what they are, are no longer sufficient and are holding back the online world. The movement to protect privacy and give back control of one’s personal information to the individual is just one proof. It is obviously necessary to prevent bad actors from doing what they’re trying to do, to steal personal information, identities and financial information and worse to disrupt our way of life.
The President’s 2011 National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, called NSTIC, states “The simple fact is that we cannot know what companies have not been launched, what products or services have not been developed, or what innovations are held back by the inadequacy of the tools. like insecure passwords, long ago overwhelmed by the fantastic growth of the Internet. What we do know is this: by making online transactions more trustworthy and enhancing consumers’ privacy, we will prevent costly crime, we will give businesses and consumers new confidence; and we will foster growth and innovation, online and across our economy — in some ways we can predict, and in other ways we can scarcely imagine.” Additionally, Department of Commerce research has found that consumer online trust is critical for the continued growth of ecommerce and online expression.
A new paradigm for online trust will enable many developments that could lead to an entirely new online world. We would have improved online trust implicit in all of our online activities and not have to share information online, beyond the minimum, to perform activities and receive goods or services. This could create an online environment in which online trust is implicit on the Internet itself. If this were the case many new online innovations would be created. Imagine being able to purchase something online from a new party without having to share your financial information or address and it could be performed without this sharing of information, without friction, because of inherent trust. This is a simple example and only a glimpse of what’s possible. Enabling such capabilities will lead to many unimagined possibilities that will lead to a new Internet. At a minimum reducing the friction, and costs, of many of the activities will have major impacts.
Online identity management is at the core of enabling this new trust paradigm. The Department of Commerce research also states that online identity is central to improving consumer trust and will be a principal theme for the web for the next period of time of growth on the web. A new approach to online identity that is easier to use, empower the users, improves cybersecurity protection, enables new personal and business opportunities and improves online trust would create a new trust paradigm that opens the door to incredible innovation and the next era of the Internet.