August 10, 2017

The Fate of Online Trust in the Next Decade

About this canvassing of experts

The expert predictions reported here about the impact of the internet over the next 10 years came in response to one of eight questions asked by Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center in an online canvassing conducted between July 1 and Aug. 12, 2016. This is the seventh “Future of the Internet” study the two organizations have conducted together. For this project, we invited nearly 8,000 experts and members of the interested public to share their opinions on the likely future of the internet, and 1,537 responded to at least one of the questions we asked. This particular report covers responses to one of five questions in the canvassing conducted in the summer of 2016. Overall, 1,233 people responded and answered this question:

Billions of people use cellphones and the internet now, and hundreds of millions more are expected to come online in the next decade. At the same time, more than half of those who use the internet and cellphones still do not use that connectivity for shopping, banking, other important transactions and key social interactions. As more people move online globally, both opportunities and threats will grow. Will people’s trust in online interactions, their work, shopping, social connections, pursuit of knowledge and other activities, be strengthened or diminished over the next 10 years?

The answer options were:

Trust will be strengthened – 48%

Trust will be diminished – 24%

Trust will stay about the same – 28%

Then we asked: Please also consider addressing these issues in your response. You do not have to consider any of these. We have added them because we hope they might prompt your thinking on important related issues: Which areas of life might experience the greatest impact? Economic activity? Health care? Education? Political and civic life? Cultural life? Will the impacts be mostly positive or negative? What role might the spread of blockchain systems play?

The web-based instrument was first sent directly to a list of targeted experts identified and accumulated by Pew Research Center and Elon University during the previous six “Future of the Internet” studies, as well as those identified across 12 years of studying the internet realm during its formative years. Among those invited were people who are active in global internet governance and internet research activities, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Internet Society (ISOC), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). We also invited a large number of professionals and policy people from technology businesses; government, including the National Science Foundation, Federal Communications Commission and European Union; and think tanks and interest networks (for instance, those that include professionals and academics in anthropology, sociology, psychology, law, political science and communications), as well as globally located people working with communications technologies in government positions; technologists and innovators; top universities’ engineering/computer science departments, business/entrepreneurship faculty, and graduate students and postgraduate researchers; plus many who are active in civil society organizations such as the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Access Now; and those affiliated with newly emerging nonprofits and other research units examining ethics and the digital age. Invitees were encouraged to share the canvassing questionnaire link with others they believed would have an interest in participating, thus there was a “snowball” effect as the invitees were joined by those they invited to weigh in.

Since the data are based on a nonrandom sample, the results are not projectable to any population other than the individuals expressing their points of view in this sample. The respondents’ remarks reflect their personal positions and are not the positions of their employers; the descriptions of their leadership roles help identify their background and the locus of their expertise. About 80% of respondents identified themselves as being based in North America; the others hail from all corners of the world. When asked about their “primary area of internet interest,” 25% identified themselves as research scientists; 7% as entrepreneurs or business leaders; 8% as authors, editors or journalists; 14% as technology developers or administrators; 10% as advocates or activist users; 9% as futurists or consultants; 2% as legislators, politicians or lawyers; and 2% as pioneers or originators. An additional 25% specified their primary area of interest as “other.”

More than half the expert respondents elected to remain anonymous. Because people’s level of expertise is an important element of their participation in the conversation, anonymous respondents were given the opportunity to share a description of their internet expertise or background, and this was noted where relevant in this report.

Here are some of the key respondents in this report (note, position titles and organization names were provided by respondents at the time of this canvassing and may not be current):

Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; Fred Baker, fellow at Cisco; Naomi Baron, a professor of linguistics at American University; danah boyd, founder of Data & Society; Stowe Boyd, managing director of Another Voice; Marcel Bullinga, trend watcher and keynote speaker; Randy Bush, Internet Hall of Fame member and research fellow at Internet Initiative Japan; Jamais Cascio, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future; Barry Chudakov, founder and principal at Sertain Research and StreamFuzion Corp.; David Clark, Internet Hall of Fame member and senior research scientist at MIT; Cindy Cohn, executive director at EFF; Anil Dash, entrepreneur, technologist and advocate; Cathy Davidson, founding director of the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York; Cory Doctorow, writer, computer science activist-in-residence at MIT Media Lab and co-owner of Boing Boing; Judith Donath, Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Stephen Downes, researcher at the National Research Council of Canada; Bob Frankston, internet pioneer and software innovator; Oscar Gandy, professor emeritus of communication at the University of Pennsylvania; Marina Gorbis, executive director at the Institute for the Future; Jeff Jarvis, a professor at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism; Jon Lebkowsky, CEO of Polycot Associates; Peter Levine, professor and associate dean for research at Tisch College of Civic Life; Mike Liebhold, senior researcher and distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future; Rebecca MacKinnon, director of Ranking Digital Rights at New America; Larry Magid, CEO of ConnectSafely.org; John Markoff, author of “Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots” and retired senior writer at The New York Times; Jerry Michalski, founder at REX; Andrew Nachison, founder at We Media; Frank Pasquale, author of “The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information” and professor of law at the University of Maryland; Demian Perry, director of mobile at National Public Radio; Susan Price, digital architect at Continuum Analytics; Justin Reich, executive director at the MIT Teaching Systems Lab; Mike Roberts, Internet Hall of Fame member and first president and CEO of ICANN; Michael Rogers, author and futurist at Practical Futurist; Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC; David Sarokin, author of “Missed Information: Better Information for Building a Wealthier, More Sustainable Future”; Henning Schulzrinne, Internet Hall of Fame member and professor at Columbia University; Doc Searls, journalist, speaker and director of Project VRM at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Ben Shneiderman, professor of computer science at the University of Maryland; Richard Stallman, Internet Hall of Fame member and president of the Free Software Foundation; Brad Templeton, chair for computing at Singularity University; Baratunde Thurston, a director’s fellow at MIT Media Lab, Fast Company columnist and former digital director of The Onion; Patrick Tucker, technology editor at Defense One and author of “The Naked Future”; Steven Waldman, founder and CEO of LifePosts; Jim Warren, longtime technology entrepreneur and activist; Amy Webb, futurist and CEO at the Future Today Institute; and David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.

Here is a selection of some of the institutions at which respondents work or have affiliations:

AAI Foresight, Access Now, Adobe, Altimeter Group, The Aspen Institute, AT&T, Booz Allen Hamilton, California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Center for Digital Education, Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies, Cisco, Computerworld, Craigslist, Cyber Conflict Studies Association, Cyborgology, Dare Disrupt, Data & Society, Digital Economy Research Center, Digital Rights Watch, DotTBA, EFF, EPIC, Ethics Research Group, European Digital Rights, Farpoint Group, Federal Communications Commission, Flipboard, Free Software Foundation, Future of Humanity Institute, Future of Privacy Forum, FutureWei, Gartner, Genentech, George Washington University, Georgia Tech, Gigaom, Gilder Publishing, Google, Groupon, Hack the Hood, Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Human Rights Watch, IBM, InformationWeek, Innovation Watch, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Institute for the Future, Institute of the Information Society, Intelligent Community Forum, International Association of Privacy Professionals, ICANN, Internet Education Foundation, Internet Engineering Task Force, Internet Initiative Japan, Internet Society, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Kenya ICT Action Network, KMP Global, The Linux Foundation, Lockheed Martin, Logic Technology Inc., MediaPost, Michigan State University, Microsoft, MIT, Mozilla, NASA, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Public Radio, National Science Foundation, Neustar, New America, New Jersey Institute of Technology, The New York Times, Nokia, Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network, New York University, OpenMedia, Oxford Martin School, Philosophy Talk, Privacy International, Queensland University of Technology, Raytheon BBN Technologies, Red Hat, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rice University’s Humanities Research Center, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Semantic Studios, Singularity University, Social Media Research Foundation, Spacetel, Square, Stanford University’s Digital Civil Society Lab, Syracuse University, Tech Networks of Boston, Telecommunities Canada, Tesla Motors, Department of Defense, U.S. Ignite, UK Government Digital Service, Unisys, United Steelworkers, University of California (Berkeley, Irvine, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara campuses), University of Copenhagen, University of Michigan, University of Milan, University of Pennsylvania, University of Toronto, Vodafone, We Media, Wired, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Yale University, York University.

Complete sets of for-credit and anonymous responses to the question can be found here:

http://www.elon.edu/e-web/imagining/surveys/2016_survey/trust_in_internet_activities.xhtml
http://www.elon.edu/e-web/imagining/surveys/2016_survey/trust_in_internet_activities_credit.xhtml
http://www.elon.edu/e-web/imagining/surveys/2016_survey/ trust_in_internet_activities_anon.xhtml