August 10, 2017

The Fate of Online Trust in the Next Decade

Theme 1: Trust will strengthen because systems will improve and people will adapt to them and more broadly embrace them

A plurality of respondents expect participation in online interactions to grow in the next decade. They cited a variety of reasons, including 1) continued improvement of global security and personal privacy in technical systems, as well as civic and industry support for social strategies, that will in turn build trust; and 2) people’s increased capacity over time to use the technology smartly. A number of the answers focused on the special role these experts expect younger generations to play as they grow up with technology. At times, however, respondents expressed concern that these younger users’ enthusiasm would be misplaced or be blind to the risks of trusting technology-mediated interactions.

The internet will continue to change the world for the better, in ways both dramatic and unknown at this time. The potential is limitless.Janice R. Lachance

Janice R. Lachance, interim president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Institute for Marketplace Trust, said, “All will be impacted, mostly for the positive. Blockchain, crowdsourcing and the increased miniaturization of devices and tools will dramatically increase access to trusted networks and services. For example, people in remote locations won’t have to travel to banks to cash checks or pay fees for wire transfers. Those services can come to them, as can critical health services. The internet will continue to change the world for the better, in ways both dramatic and unknown at this time. The potential is limitless.”

An anonymous principal consultant commented, “There is this Dilbert comic where someone at lunch is bragging how they would never give out their credit card online, then turns around and hands it to a minimum-wage server. The risks from the internet aren’t greater than what we have always faced, they are just less familiar to some. The database where Amazon stores my credit card number is way more secure than the drawer where some mom and pop operation used to store my credit card impressions. Technology also allows vendors, processors and banks to respond to problems much more quickly. Are people still going to get swindled? Of course, just as they always have. But at the same time we have the ability to let a wide audience know that no, there is not a Nigerian prince who wants your help smuggling money out of the country. Scams are going to have a much shorter life span than they once did.”

Avery Holton, an assistant professor and humanities scholar at the University of Utah, said, “As technologies and access expand, privacy in areas such as personal finance and health will certainly continue to be questioned and tested. At the same time, organizations and companies are working to enhance the protection and security of individual data. Beyond encryption and multiple password requirements, new technologies in the coming decade should work to provide fail-safes for individual information should the security for such information fail. Where now a bank may send an individual a new debit card if their account information was breached (a process that may take days or weeks), they may be able to simply reset EMV (or forthcoming) chips remotely. We must remember that with each test to the security of our data comes an opportunity to improve our security. Part of the current problems rests on the shoulders of individuals who recognize threats to their security but struggle to change (e.g., many still use a single password across multiple channels). So, organizations and companies must also focus on engaging individuals and encouraging a change in their habits.”

Cindy Cohn, executive director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, warned that people must advocate for the most-positive future of trust in online interaction. “The pressure to build a more-secure internet and tools will build in both the public and corporate sphere. The government will be unsuccessful in efforts to reduce [individuals’ personal] security and the result will be that more people will, rightfully, trust in the security of their tools. That’s the happy story. There is the opposite one, too, though; the direction is up to us.”

Jon Lebkowsky, CEO of Polycot Associates, commented, “Currently, trust is diminishing. The high commitment to online data systems for sensitive transactions and storage of sensitive data is still a relatively new thing, and we’ve seen breaches where there were security flaws that were not obvious until the breaches had occurred. We’re still perfecting systems and processes, and expectations are low and will probably be lower. However, this will drive security innovation, and I’m confident that we will eventually restore trust as systems improve.”

Stuart Shulman, CEO of Texifter, wrote, “We have all created gaping holes in our privacy in exchange for convenience, happiness, economic gain, self-promotion, affection and certain kinds of indulgence. Most people would not willingly create such gaping holes if they did not believe, at some level, [that] what is lost pales in comparison to what is gained.”

Subtheme: Improved technology plus regulatory and industry changes will help increase trust

Some experts in this canvassing expressed trust that technological improvements will enhance trust in online systems. One of the many such prospects respondents predicted is the rise of more-secure personal identification schemes that might allow individuals more control over their personal data while buttressing security via creation of a greater capacity for activities and transactions to be authenticated by others.

An anonymous Internet Hall of Fame member wrote, “The use of verified identity can provide for much better accountability on the internet. Knowing who you’re dealing with will make it reasonable to ‘trust, but verify.’ ”

Paul Davis, a director based in Australia, observed, “The drift to digital-first engagement will certainly benefit anything which is transactional in nature, across most services. Trust will continue to develop and mitigations be put in place after significant breaches of that trust. The digital self will play an ever-increasing role in political and civic life, with that self eventually merging with the whole, whereby people who reject their digital identity become today’s ‘hippies.’ There will be a social cost to not being ‘online,’ potentially increasing discrimination in some areas; however, the overall benefits will grow through greater accessibility.”

An anonymous associate professor commented, “I’d like to believe trust will be strengthened but I believe that depends on effective regulation of online services. A lot depends on whether government is given the authority and resources to regulate online trade.”

Garth Graham, board member at Telecommunities Canada, advocated for individuals’ right to own their identity. “Trust will only be strengthened when my digital identity is owned by me as a matter of right,” he commented.

Marshall Kirkpatrick, co-founder of Little Bird, previously with ReadWriteWeb and TechCrunch, replied, “There is a clear path from less to more familiarity with new platforms. Carrying out many social functions by mobile device ID is quickly becoming the new normal.”

Dave Kissoondoyal, CEO of KMP Global Ltd., responded, “Technology will evolve [so] that people will trust online interactions more than today. It is technology itself that will bring this trust and more and more people will interact online than anything else.”

Larry Magid, CEO of ConnectSafely.org, said, “Technology will get better and more secure, and more people will realize the benefits of online financial transactions. Besides, there will be fewer (or more expensive) alternatives.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “The organizations developing the standards upon which the infrastructures are built have security and privacy as prime directives in that development. There may be isolated enclaves where the trust may decrease due to mandated weaknesses, but generally the trend is toward much greater protections and a legitimate basis for trust.”

Paul Jones, clinical professor and director at the University of North Carolina, commented, “Remember traveler’s checks replacing cash? ATMs replacing your favorite teller? We’re seeing that again. Not just with financial transactions but with social interactions, health and education. At this point, there is no stopping the transitions already underway. Blockchain systems are only the latest technical augmentation of trust. Expect more. Soon.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “If there is money to be made, industry will find an answer to security.” And an anonymous researcher at a futures institute agreed, writing, “It is in the financial interest of powerful companies that this trust be strengthened, and they have the ability to make that happen.”

Industry is also expected to continue to encourage public trust – deserved or not – through information campaigns.

Beth Corzo-Duchardt, assistant professor at Muhlenberg College, wrote, “Whether warranted or not, trust in online activities will be strengthened because there are so many industry forces invested in garnering trust through advertising and indirect propaganda.”

T. Rob Wyatt, an independent network security consultant, agreed with her but worries over the lack of actual industry investment in security. “Although we live in a digital house of cards and our national infrastructure targets are frighteningly porous, the global economy relies on confidence in digital transaction infrastructure and security,” he said. “We will continue to invest heavily in the perception of security even as we ignore it. Digital security is the toxic waste dump of our age. The willful blindness of corporate and government entities of the need to invest in basic security has resulted in the externalization of these costs in large pools of accumulated technical debt. Not only is the cost deferred and shifted to external parties, but it is amplified by orders of magnitude when the cleanup and effects are finally expressed.”

Nigel Cameron, president and CEO of the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies, observed, “The net will be likely be strengthened in regard to trust, though this is a risky judgment and there’s, say, a 40-60 chance of a collapse of trust through a series of catastrophic failures, whether the work of asymmetric bad actors, crooks, power-grabbing corporations, or mere systemic incompetence – OPM [U.S. Office of Personnel Management], etc. If it goes the 40 way, we could end up with a rush to an analog future.”

Valerie Bock of VCB Consulting said, “We will learn how to secure our critical infrastructure, and in the meantime we are learning how to hold consumers harmless for the breaches that occur within our current systems. The benefits of being able to loan an e-book to a new friend instantaneously to keep a conversation going, the ability to shop the world for things there is only a small market for, the ability to transfer value at low cost, and the ability to access the latest scientific information, all offer powerful ways to connect people to one another and hence enhance trust.”

Nobody expects perfection, but many expect that despite “bumps along the way” the online experience will remain mostly positive.

An anonymous associate professor and director of a university center for policy informatics replied, “Not only will trust be strengthened, it will be the expectation of interactions. Many people will probably have at least one negative interaction with sharing their information online; it will be important that the biggest brokers and legislators create a culture of trust as stability (similar to the government insuring banks or credit cards ensuring that you will never pay for a fraudulent transaction).”

Twenty years ago the web was really the Wild West. You never knew what to trust. Now there are largely trusted intermediaries like Google and Mozilla that block or identify many threats. This trend will strengthen over the coming decade.Anonymous respondent

An anonymous software engineer commented, “We’re just at the beginning of the use of online systems for commerce and banking globally. The system already works as well online as it does offline. There will be bumps along the way, but overall it will be mostly positive for buyers and sellers. Economic activity will be foremost, but education and health care will also benefit. However, the impact on political and civic life will be mostly to drive information bubbles and foster divisiveness.”

An anonymous head of privacy said, “Wireless devices and security for IoT [Internet of Things] applications and online services will continue to improve. As devices and connectivity are made available to more individuals, positive economic and socialization opportunities will expand. Cross-border law enforcement and consumer and privacy protection, in addition to mobile authentication regimes, will encourage expanding trust.”

An anonymous open source technologist observed, “The emergence of companies like Amazon, Google and Apple is indicative of the great trust people already place in these organizations and the online world. This will grow as better governance, systems and software take hold.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Twenty years ago the web was really the Wild West. You never knew what to trust. Now there are largely trusted intermediaries like Google and Mozilla that block or identify many threats. This trend will strengthen over the coming decade.”

Adam Nelson, chief technology officer at Factr, predicted, “Economic activity will become much more efficient and secure. Keep in mind that the ‘analog’ economy with cash is also encumbered by theft and fraud. These won’t go away but the frequency will be lessened. Government/public oversight will be higher, though.”

Dan York, senior content strategist at the Internet Society, is encouraged by technological advances but warned against stringent regulation, writing, “I hope trust will be strengthened, but I fear that if we don’t do anything about it, trust will be diminished. Trust will probably be diminished over the next 2-5 years, but after that I hope it will be strengthened, as technologies and policies get adopted that raise the level of trust. So my answer for 10 years out is different from five years out. We are seeing an erosion of trust right now as more and more data breaches happen, more and more surveillance happens, and more and more security vulnerabilities happen. There are ways to make that trust stronger, some of them technical, some of them policy – and I believe we must implement these tools …. I’d give about even odds as to whether those things will happen. The impact of diminished trust could be strongest on economic activity. It could also cause governments to want to ‘take action to protect citizens’ that could result in the imposition of harsh legislation or the further fragmentation of the internet. This could lessen the opportunities available to all.”

Demian Perry, director of mobile at NPR, noted that he already sees tech improvements that might enable trust in his business. “The reality is that online transactions are now far safer than traditional transactions and they will only become more so,” he commented. “My credit card has been stolen multiple times in the past two years, all as a result of security holes at brick-and-mortar point of sale that would have been avoided had I made the transaction online. In just one example of how online transactions are so much more secure, we are now working with our member stations to implement a donation method that will effectively authorize a new credit card for each transaction and immediately destroy that card after the transaction. In the short moment when the card is active, it will have a credit limit that is very close to the intended donation amount. And as we continue to improve the security of online transactions with advances like this one, consumers will become increasingly confident in their online purchases.”

One anonymous respondent spoke in support of the types of online “neighborhood watch” that are expanding to allow netizens to report violations: “Providers of social media, retail, information, games, etc. will provide as safe an environment as possible to conduct these activities, otherwise they’ll lose users. As far as interpersonal correspondences go, trusting someone online will come with the same perils as real life. Stalkers stalk, whether online or off. Abusers abuse, whether online or off. But online reporting is quickly becoming more reliable than law enforcement. It’s easier to get someone banned for stalking online than to get a restraining order from law enforcement. That will go a long way toward building trust in social interactions. If someone becomes abusive or stalker-ish, report them and they disappear.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “One, the protection mechanisms will get stronger and people will be more accustomed to these transactions. [Two,] the younger generations will just do this as a matter of course, so trust will improve. On the other hand, the hacking systems and such will get stronger, such that there will be many ways to get into someone’s data. The more secure the data, the more sophisticated hackers will have to be. And that’s dangerous.”

David Williams, who chose not to share any additional identifying information, replied, “As folks gradually shift more of their life online (and they age into a more pure online world), trust will naturally increase and breaches of that trust will be seen as the cost of living in this century rather than the last. Encryption that promises to remain strong in light of advances in quantum computing will be more important. The challenge to cellphone dominance will likely remain in the transactions that require more screen real estate than anyone is willing to carry in their pocket. There will continue to be efforts to simplify everything down to cellphone-sized chunks, which will reduce the value of some of the current offerings. Technology will continue to evolve to gain and hold that trust, and malicious folks will continue to find ways to abuse it. On the whole, I expect the malicious folks will be gradually diminished in their abilities to leverage purely technological attacks.”

Nick Tredennick, a technology analyst, said, “Historically, net contributions are positive, so adding more people and more interactions will bring greater trust capabilities to interactions.”

A number of respondents shared their opinions regarding which particular aspects of online interaction might be trusted most in 2026.

Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois, Springfield, observed, “Online interactions will become the default norm; it will be as comfortable and considered as reliable as a visit to the bank in the 1980s; an in-person visit to a doctor in the 1990s; or an in-person purchase at a grocery store in the first decade of the 21st century. Elections will be conducted online, resulting in greater participation and a more complete canvassing of the public.”

An anonymous respondent predicted, “Trust in online banking will go down. Trust in health care will be negative and positive. Health care is very much in the dark ages when it comes to online security, record keeping and HIPAA protection. Most doctors and nurses don’t have much skill when it comes to using computers and many are actively dragging their feet on implementing changes. Also, insurance companies deliberately make things more difficult and time-consuming to enter and they use confusing and outdated computer programs and databases that are not user-friendly. From personal experience, I know they deliberately discourage startups from using their data to get better pricing for services and medicines or from making things more user-friendly. Even federally mandated data is unavailable except for in a badly physically printed stack of paper in tiny print for thousands of dollars and by the time it’s made available, all the prices have changed. Trust in cultural life – opportunities have improved, but people get locked into social platforms that make certain kinds of social interaction harder (I’m looking at you, Facebook). In regard to blockchain systems, accountability might help prevent ‘griefing’ in certain online social contexts, as long as the blockchain is used as an introduction of sorts.”

An anonymous managing director predicted, “Commercial applications will grow faster; government applications for trust (health care, education) will take a while. This requires transformations of whole sectors, which is a slow and tedious process.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Health care and education should see the greatest positive impact, but the former and economic activity raise significant security risks. In addition, the latest popular app, ‘Pokemon Go,’ shows how criminals are learning how to manipulate even cultural/societal types of engagements.”

Another anonymous respondent commented, “Trust in social media will decline, but trust in services such as banking and shopping will increase.”

An anonymous technical operations lead said, “Economic – Obviously, we will have more of the economy be purely virtual, such as purchasing in-game virtual items. Right now, this is the all-or-nothing ‘give us your credit card,’ but there will be many more fine-grained ways of buying things in the future. Health care – Ideally, there would be a standard way of noting your health, and it would be stored/owned by you. (Instead of health records being ‘owned’ by companies providing care, and transfer of records being a ‘value-add’ service that costs more.) We could even have people do ‘research’ by asking a question that queries everyone’s records, but doesn’t expose any individual data. Politics – I hope we have reached peak indifference and in the future politicians will be held to a higher standard instead of a lower one.”

Stephen Schultz, who chose not to share any additional identifying information, wrote, “Payment systems via smartphone will become as common as consumer credit within the next four years, and, with it, public trust in those systems. Also, I see the principles of encryption becoming common knowledge in the near but indeterminate future and with it, an increase in public trust generalized to any system transmitting or retaining personal information. I don’t feel nearly as confident making any such predictions for medical care and personal medical histories. In smaller nation-states, especially those with single-payer medical care, the implementation of a portable, accessible personal medical record is already within reach. At the other extreme (i.e., the U.S.), there are some startups with a mission to achieve the same thing (e.g., Ohio-based CrossChx), but I imagine it would have to be some kind of open standard in order to work, and that process will almost certainly take several years.”

Some of these experts argued that there is a special pressure on civic systems to build trust in an increasingly challenging media environment. An anonymous respondent who works in the government wrote, “Most-affected will be political and civic life. Trust is a function of knowledge and shared information and belief sets. As more facts become available, more trust is generated. As more opinions are disguised as facts, less trust and more polarization will occur.” And an anonymous systems manager commented, “Trust will go up if and only if advocates for open systems and transparency inherent in civic big data can continue their work.”

One anonymous respondent warned that currently emerging applications that gauge user behaviors will be applied, writing, “Trust will be strengthened, but through perceptual and behavioral manipulation rather than stronger security infrastructure or realistic comparative outcomes. Technologies’ ability to manipulate behavior is outstripping humans’ ability to react in the time scales involved. Some people will take advantage of that.”

An anonymous process manager said that blame for problems is regularly misplaced, observing, “Most people don’t think about their trust in terms of systems. Even those whose identity has been stolen or data breached only develop anger toward the group immediately responsible for the loss – they’re mad at Target, or PlayStation, or whoever. They are not mad at the infrastructure. Most people turn their anger on the ‘bad driver’ who caused an accident, not the road builder who designed a blind turn in a busy area.”

An anonymous respondent predicted, “The market will continue to improve in ways to build societal trust, but I would not be at all surprised to find these efforts derailed by economic catastrophe in the very near future, from which a more trustworthy internet may potentially arise.”

Subtheme: The younger generation and people whose lives rely on technology the most are the vanguard of those who most actively use it, and these groups will grow larger

Many respondents observed that younger generations and those who feel they must rely upon it to stay competitive have historically been the most likely to put trust in technology. An anonymous research officer said, “This is purely a demographic issue. Distrust of technology skews toward the older sections of society so, by necessity, trust will grow as time passes. Trust could be further amplified by companies improving efforts to ensure digital security and avoid fraud.”

Convenience will outweigh distrust, and today’s 10-year-olds will have grown up with the same easy familiarity with blockchain and algorithmic identity their parents did with DVD and cellphones and their grandparents did with TV, jet travel and automobiles.”Dave Howell

Uta Russmann, communications professor at the FHWien University of Applied Sciences in Vienna, said, “People’s trust will be strengthened over the next 10 years, as most of the people who are shopping, banking, etc., will have been socialized and educated within the online world.”

An anonymous professor at a state university noted, “Trust will be strengthened mainly because people will become used to using these tools daily for these functions. Twenty miles an hour was once considered a dangerous speed for human travel.”

Dave Howell, a senior program manager in the telecommunications industry, replied, “Convenience will outweigh distrust, and today’s 10-year-olds will have grown up with the same easy familiarity with blockchain and algorithmic identity their parents did with DVD and cellphones and their grandparents did with TV, jet travel and automobiles. Location-based services will inundate these kids with offers; they’ll learn to ignore them. Parents will get headaches and be frustrated while kids will skip along. Health care? Maybe not in the next decade but within the next three [it] will see huge efforts to automate it to reduce costs. Blockchain and algorithms had better be bulletproof in identifying persons, and trusted records kept inviolate.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “This strengthened trust is a matter of generational replacement. Children today won’t even consider that there’s an alternate way of conducting business.”

An anonymous respondent with the Internet Engineering Task Force predicted, “I doubt [trust] will change much for individual people. But on average it will increase as old people die and new people enter the system. I do most of my work with an internationally distributed community. It is very powerful to assemble a team without regard to geography.”

An anonymous assistant professor at a state university wrote, “Trust will be strengthened … I expect information security will improve, on the whole. Further, I imagine younger generations are and will be more comfortable with sharing information – including sensitive information – online. I expect, for instance, that most voting will eventually move online, and that more health care discussions between doctors and patients will move online. I think, for the most part, these are positive changes, though there is probably some negative consequence to diminished in-person contact.”

Many said they expect that online interaction will become so normalized that trust might not be figured into many people’s decision-making when it comes to such actions. Some see it as a sort of implicit trust.

David Morar, a doctoral student and Google policy fellow at George Mason University, replied, “Societal understanding and acceptance of online interactions and of mobile devices as an important pillar in human life will only grow into the future. The fact that these tools can also be used for horrible things should not and will not completely overshadow the potential benefits of using these tools in more aspects of life. One example of this is the near-mainstream appeal of online and mobile dating. Once seen as a place reserved for ‘creeps’ and ‘deviants,’ online dating is now as normal as making dinner reservations online through an app. This shows that social norms change, adapt and expand (or not) in a constant back-and-forth with technology. A serious educational endeavor will be desperately needed in the near future in order to help citizens evolve their current understanding of fundamentals such as privacy, security and the limits of the tools being used.”

Megan Browndorf, a staff member at Towson University, said, “Crime will increase. Accidental use and misuse will increase. But that is simply a matter of opportunity and numbers. Overall, we will see the development of the internet as a space …. Individuals will become more used to existing on the internet: working, and being and communicating there. And that is enough to build trust. In the next decade, as the number of adults who do not remember a time before the internet grows and the number of individuals with familiarity with the internet grows, it will become a trusted fact of life.”

Glen Thomas, a head of computing in an educational setting, commented, “My students do not care for online security, so there is implicit trust throughout the younger generation. They just want the features and companies and governments can do what they wish with their data. There will be issues when bulk medical data makes its way to employers and insurance companies.”

Richard Lachmann, a professor of sociology at the University at Albany, noted: “As people use online services more, they will become more confident in them. However, familiarity will [be] undercut by the frequent security breaches.”

Anonymous respondents also commented:

  • “Most of the people who don’t trust the tech are older. As they die off, younger folks who mostly don’t think about privacy and security become a larger portion of the consumer base of those devices.”
  • “For young users it will be second-nature and seamless.”
  • “As younger generations who have grown up with technology get older, you will see increased trust in online interactions – whether or not that trust is deserved – because of a high level of complacency.”
  • “Generations are coming online who know nothing else. Nostalgia for old methods will die off.”
  • “Trust will remain the same, but the penetration and use will grow as it becomes more commonplace and the generations who either never used the internet or were just present for its birth will give way to people who have never known life without it.”
  • “Apps and the mobile web are still often clunky or not as useful as doing some things in person. People will gravitate to whatever is easiest, cheapest and most reliable. When state and local government services are reliably operating on apps and the mobile web, people will use them there.”

There were several strong dissenters, though, to the notion that the successor generation will be a vanguard.

For instance, an anonymous senior technology architect at a Canadian telecommunications provider commented, “If there is a significant change in the perceived trust people are willing to give, it will be incremental at best. In large part I expect this because, if anything, the generation coming up now has even less reason to trust the internet than the older generation does. Their day-to-day experience is of friends having accounts hacked, of having personal information leaked, of large organizations and governments being compromised. There will be no basis for them to believe that access to their health records online or paying with their phone is natively more secure than it was. That doesn’t mean they won’t do it. You may see greater adoption rates, but people may also partition themselves and their transactions in other ways. It will require a sea change in the IT industry to significantly improve security. Privacy can’t be expected to improve without this change, although an improvement in privacy is not a given. The status quo is a state of nearly constant compromise, which is more or less what we have now. Sadly, increased surveillance is almost easier to implement than this improvement in security. More than that, it’s easier to comprehend. There is a net downside to adding monitoring, although improvements in detection and response to breaches may appear to outweigh it.”