August 10, 2017

The Fate of Online Trust in the Next Decade

Theme 5: The less-than-satisfying current situation will not change much in the next decade

A noteworthy number of those responding to this canvassing are not convinced that much progress will be made in people’s existing attitudes about trust online.

Ed Lyell, professor of business and economics at Adams State University, wrote, “Security is the key to which direction we go in trusting transactions to electronic form. Passwords are mostly inefficient, especially since to be safe they become so complicated as to frustrate the user. Biometrics are likely to give us more security with less effort. As these emerge, and work, trust will expand and commerce of many types will expand online. It may also be necessary to move toward global policing and significant enforcement. This is the weak link in the chain since all too many nation states participate in as well as harbor the online thieves. Like tax evasion it will take a global response, which is not likely in the near term.”

We will see a convergence of online and real life in this area. In both, people will need to be vigilant about their surroundings, skeptical of strangers, and aware of risks in areas they venture online and off.Steven Polunsky

Joe Mandese, editor-in-chief of MediaPost, replied, “Forces will push this simultaneously in both directions. People will trust online interactions more because they will become more familiar with them and because new technologies – especially blockchaining – will create a more secure infrastructure. People will also trust it less, because new forms of interactions will be created that they will not be familiar with and these will create opportunities for less security. Two simultaneous forces pushing in opposite directions.”

Scott Fahlman, computer science and artificial intelligence research professor at Carnegie Mellon University, observed, “ ‘Trust’ is the wrong question to ask. Smartphones and non-expert people doing complex things online are recent phenomena, very sudden by historical standards. In the past, human societies have had decades or centuries to come to grips with such disruptive technologies that have great potential for both good and bad consequences. The user community (which might be almost everyone) has to understand what these technologies do, what are the dangers, and society has to make new rules and social compacts about what things are OK, what are bad (in certain contexts), and how to police or prevent the bad ones. That takes time, and we’re not there with internet and cellphones. But kids who have lived with these things all their lives now are getting much smarter about what to do and not do, and society is beginning to come up with some consensus views on the limits of privacy invasion, etc. We need to work on this, but we needed to work on the rules for newspapers, broadcasting, high-speed driving, and so on. The difference now is that we need to do this more quickly than before.”

Dan Molina, coordinator of special projects for the World Business Academy and former NBC News correspondent, commented, “The internet is a reflection of our character and intentions as people. It does not increase or decrease our propensity to positive or negative purposes. It is another tool, as were the wheel, the telephone, the typewriter and various devices in earlier eras. The differences now are the immediacy of access and the fact that technology abolishes geographical boundaries. So we are forced to confront a global mix of realities that vary widely. We are forced, in some cases, to deal with continuously insidious behavior and facts outside of our everyday thinking. The internet and media technology can and will, as always, be used for anything. This can be the highest of purposes – education, information, illumination, as entertainment and a means of social interaction. It can also be used for crime and to serve the abominable instincts of human nature. The flaw is our regarding these things with indifference. Each expansion of our capabilities requires more of us. Of course we can use it productively, and of course it will be a method of proliferating the worst in human nature. As always, we must relish, celebrate and encourage the best of these opportunities and fight the worst as best we can. Like it or not, we have a lot of new neighbors, like great-grandma on her party line.”

Jennifer Zickerman, an entrepreneur, commented, “Trust will stay about the same – low. We continue to use devices and services that put our privacy and economic security at risk, lamenting the risk and paying for it indirectly (bank and credit card fees, etc.). The technology industry has failed dramatically in providing secure mechanisms for data transfer and storage. It is astonishing to me that they are not held accountable for their failures. There will probably be several large-scale security meltdowns with more-immediate consequences that will make people demand improvements. However, systems are so fragmented and ill-designed that there will only be grand pronouncements (by companies and governments) and temporary solutions, leading to an even bigger hodge-podge of draconian front-end security mechanisms while still tolerating security holes in the back end that you could drive a tank through.”

Steven Polunsky,, said, “We will see a convergence of online and real life in this area. In both, people will need to be vigilant about their surroundings, skeptical of strangers, and aware of risks in areas they venture online and off.”

An anonymous fellow at an organization assessing the future of privacy wrote, “This depends on how companies behave, i.e., how aggressive they are in the use of personal information. It also depends upon whether people are comfortable with the risk-to-benefit calculus. And it depends on whether personal information can be secured. Due to problems with global hacking, it is unlikely I will ever do banking using my cellphone. A lot of ongoing consumer education is needed. Consumer concern and the feeling of resignation about the current situation is already really high and is likely to stay the same.”

Karel Kerstiens, retired from the U.S. Air Force, wrote, “There is a certain balance on the internet of ‘good versus evil’ in reference to technology. I was on the internet back when Google indicated there were less than 5,000 websites indexed. The balance of ‘good versus evil’ technology back then seems to be roughly the same today. This strongly indicates to me that the future balance between the good actors and the bad actors should closely remain the same as it is today.”

Axel Bruns, professor at the Digital Media Research Center at Queensland University of Technology, commented, “I’m not sure that trust will continue to play an especially important role in these questions into the future. It seems more likely to me that there will be a gradual curtailing of alternative options for such transactions: Banks and government offices, for instance, are increasingly moving their client engagement facilities online while reducing offline transaction opportunities. It will become more and more difficult for clients to resist such a push to use online facilities. This may open up a market for small players offering bespoke face-to-face services, but it is unlikely that they will be able to capture more than a small slice of the market. On transactions, essentially what we are seeing is a supplier-driven push to use online services, which is only slightly mitigated by government regulations that require some essential services still to be delivered in non-online modes as well, especially to people and communities who remain offline or poorly connected. On social interactions, as opposed to transactions, the dynamic is different, and there is more of a user-driven pull that is driving adoption; this in turn is related in particular to network effects. Here, remaining offline or poorly connected – deliberately or because of adverse circumstances – is increasingly felt as a significant disadvantage. The more acutely that disadvantage is felt, the more likely users are also to overlook significant concerns about trust: You may not fundamentally ‘trust’ Facebook’s handling of your data, for instance, but you may nonetheless use Facebook because of the substantial peer pressure to do so (and the fear of missing out associated with not using it). One way for many users to address such mistrust of key platforms is likely to be the creative obfuscation of personal information, in an attempt to make personal information less traceable – even if the growing sophistication of profiling algorithms means that such attempts are largely unsuccessful.”

John Howard, creative director at LOOOK,  wrote, “Wireless technology has allowed developing countries and economies to leapfrog infrastructure requirements (power, telecom, banking, etc.). For many in the developing world – as well as those who want to interact with them – the risks are outweighed by the opportunities. As a result, both good and bad actors are drawn to the new opportunities this creates.”

The general public will remain largely ignorant of the systems protecting their communications; criminal organizations and states will continue to abuse and hack both the low-hanging and high-reward fruit.Anonymous respondent

An anonymous founder and CEO said, “Overall, I hope trust will remain the same but there will probably be a trust shakeup – i.e., some big players will abuse their trust and lose their audience/customers and others will step in. I hope.”

An anonymous systems administrator commented, “The ‘drug’ is so good that people will use it even if they don’t trust it – the platform is too deeply embedded in people’s lives. I suspect that the revelations going forward will only get worse. I do think that total surveillance is the norm. I do expect that people will adapt.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Barring something exceptional happening – e.g., quantum computing rendering existing cryptography obsolete with no alternatives – nothing will change. The general public will remain largely ignorant of the systems protecting their communications; criminal organizations and states will continue to abuse and hack both the low-hanging and high-reward fruit.”

Another anonymous respondent wrote, “The internet offers more of everything. If you don’t trust one service, you can easily put your trust in another. Distrust will always be an issue, but with more options, people will be more likely to put their trust into something rather than just forego the entire experience altogether. All factors listed (economic, political, cultural, civic, educational, etc.) will be greatly affected. With the internet, people have more choice in where they get their education and news. They choose who they get to interact with, defining their own culture. Don’t like your present situation? The internet will inform and give you options. As long as the internet continues this, trust will remain the same.”

An anonymous senior software developer replied, “Most people don’t even think about the issue of trust when it comes to online interactions. They take for granted that they’re safe … until they’re not, which happens increasingly frequently. But because there’s no real separation between the anti-security measures used by law enforcement, intelligence agencies and a growing subculture of cybercriminals, measures to make people more aware of online threats will be suppressed.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “If economic justice is addressed in meaningful ways, trust will increase. Until then, trust will remain about the same. Educational initiatives aimed at rebuilding trust also seem lacking. Workplace trust appears diminished, given the lack of mutual loyalty in most jobs, as well as the economic disparities between those at the top and those actually delivering the products and services. Culture is about the only area where I see change for the better.”

Anonymous respondents also commented:

  • “We’re still a long way from ‘Six Sigma trust’ in the online world.”
  • “The cat-and-mouse game will continue.”
  • “I expect there to be surges of mistrust and trust as users demand more security in various privacy aspects (buying/selling/banking, health care, social media) and more access that weakens the security measures.”
  • “Trust may stay the same but ignorance of security will grow. People now know all about the NSA bulk email scrapings but virtually no one outside of IT circles has pursued cryptographic solutions.”
  • “It’ll be both (as there are always security breaches) but familiarity causes complacency if not trust.”
  • “Trust will stay about the same, but use will continue to rise as the use of technologies in general (not just phones) becomes more expected, normative and sometimes necessary. But there will be enough concerns and incidents that I don’t think there’ll be a major increase in trust, and enough apathy that I don’t there’ll be a major decrease.”
  • “On one hand the ratio of web-native users (born in this millennium) will grow larger and therefore trust will be strengthened (due to different privacy concept), but on the other hand media exposures of surveillance such as the NSA and online use of users’ information by giant companies such as Facebook and Google who are ‘caught meddling’ with the data will diminish trust.”
  • “There’s a lot of both good and bad things that happen in an online world. It feels like the sophistication and frequency of hacking, attacking, etc., is going way up, but – on the flip side – it feels as if people are becoming numb to the issues and continuing on (e.g., because they’re not ‘directly’ bearing the cost if their credit card is stolen, etc.).”
  • “There does not seem to be broad-based concern about the current and potential impact of mass government surveillance, or about the enormous pool of exploitable personal information being created by the surveillance economy. Where there is concern, the unusability of most encryption technology by non-specialists and the centrality of tools like Google and Facebook make it difficult to take any practical steps to address it. The current status quo will be the future one.”