People need digital trust – but based on the principles of human trust

digital trust human trust
Digital trust. Image by mentalmind | Bigstockphoto

People are living and working more and more in digital environments. COVID-19 has accelerated the transition to more virtual and digital interactions. Security is a concern in many services. But part of the problem is that security experts, companies addressing customer concerns and even governments focus on negative messages and want to offer restrictions and hard to use tools instead of focusing on opportunities and making the internet a more trusted environment. The thinking is often too technical and theoretical, not based on human behavior or user experience.

Trust is a fundamental basis for societies and businesses. Countries where people trust each other typically work better than countries with shallow trust. It is hard to make a country or city safer just by adding more police officers or restrictions. If business parties cannot trust each other, they just try to focus on short term quick wins and don’t want to create long term commitments and investments. 

We have the same situation in the digital environment, but many parties still believe that added restrictions, more policing tools, and trendy, trustless transaction solutions would make it better. We can see this on many levels. In many companies, security officers and experts tell us what must not be done, how risky everything is and creating all kinds of rules for the organization. Governments also sometimes adopt very simplified models to use. Some countries even restrict what people can see and do on the internet. But even the US and UK want to move to more populist models like forbidding end-to-end encryption in the fight against terrorism or protecting children. Of course, it is a totally unrealistic request and doesn’t do much to make the internet a safer or better place.

We all know how complex it can be using digital banking apps, identification and signing services. These are usually built from a very technical perspective, making something technically bullet-proof. Still, they are not lazy-user-proof when users don’t use the service or forget the security recommendations while using the service. 

The Financial Times organized its annual European Financial Forum in early February, and one crucial topic was digital finance services. Several speakers emphasized digital trust as a critical component for developing digital services. Nowadays, many things are done online, with email and messaging services, video calls and digital signatures. If parties cannot trust each other, it is quite impossible to conduct digital business.

Facebook deletes billions of fake profiles annually, we all get loads of suspicious emails daily, and companies create bots and fake profiles on LinkedIn just to generate contacts to sell more. Companies use solutions to secure communications and information sharing internally. Still, more and more business is being done across organizations, and most often, email, Zoom and WhatsApp are the typical tools, simply because they are the easiest to use. 

It is quite evident that better trust solutions are needed. But they should be built on natural human behavior and somehow generate trust built up over generations in societies and communities. Cryptography experts cannot create digital trust.

Typically, trust is built up step by step with human interaction. You may be in the same class in school, study together at a university, work together, or live in the same neighbourhood or have the same hobbies. Or you know someone you trust, and they introduce you to someone else, and you immediately trust them by inference. Trust is not black and white. You build it over time, it depends on the context, and you can lose trust quickly. And trust is not based on a set of rules and restrictions; it is based primarily on positive experiences with someone.

We are stepping into a new era of digital trust. Then pandemic has accelerated the need to do this. We need new solutions to build and manage digital trust, and they will need to include both social and technical innovations. And they will also need to work with our daily digital tools, like email, chat, video calls, and data sharing. As trust in society is based on positive experiences and opportunities, we need digital trust tools based on positive experiences, mutual learning and finding more opportunities.

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