Trust: A key word in our world of virtual interactions
Trust/trəst/: Firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. By Ross MacDonald.
By Ross MacDonald
The foundations of the working of human society are built on trust. This has been so since the beginning of recorded history. As our communities evolved from hunter gatherer groups into agricultural chiefdoms, and ultimately modern states their operation, increasing complexity and success relied not only upon our cultural evolution as posited by Robert Wright in Non-Zero (http://www.nonzero.org/) but also upon trust. Trust is integral to our ‘culture.’
The birth of capitalism and the rapid economic and technological growth of the last five centuries began with the pooling of capital used by investors to underwrite a ships trading expedition called the ‘contratto di commenda’. Such ventures could not have happened without the inherent trust that the investors had - that the expedition’s captain would return the profits to the investors.
Today we could not conduct our modern lives without trust. We go about our day with confidence that our utilities will be delivered, that the bus or train we ride on will get us safely to our destination, that the coffee shop we visit maintains acceptable levels of hygiene, that our ISP and our email providers will keep our data confidential. Ah now that brings up a point. Can we indeed trust our Cloud providers to maintain our privacy and keep our data secure. They may mean well - but can they really do it? If RSA – that 500 lb security behemoth cannot even keep its servers secure from hackers then who can? (http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/03/rsa-hacked/) So while we trust our providers to do the best they can – can they actually deliver?
An interesting revelation for me at the recent Global Mobile Congress in Barcelona was the results of a particular piece of market research suggesting that users trust their mobile operators. I guess that comes from many years of generally good, reliable service which has gradually gotten cheaper. But now that data is overtaking voice as the biggest service on the networks - with it comes our mobile Web access and so I would suggest that our faith in MNO’s will start to erode. The migration of hackers and malware from fixed to mobile is happening at the same rate that mobile access is proliferating. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/jan/30/android-malware-row)
There is much FUD out there when it comes to security on the Net and with it an undermining of trust. After all without real security who can you trust? Does all of this mean that the trust evolved and developed over millennia is now in danger of being eroded completely.
We in our modern connected societies have become ever more suspicious particularly of those in whom we should have ‘trust’ i.e. the State. (http://heatherbrooke.org/books/silent-state/) The State has become ever more intrusive into our daily lives and our privacy, which we (maybe not the generation Y’ers) hold dear, is compromised. The same holds true for the Internet age mega-corporations, such as Google and Facebook, some of whom proudly pronounce the death of privacy. (http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/facebooks_zuckerberg_says_the_age_of_privacy_is_ov.php)
But I digress. Trust is the lubricant of the modern economic engine. Not privacy. If we are to maintain and increase economic growth we need to regain trust particularly when it comes to online transactions. Simply because online is where much of our economic activity is going. We need to find ways in which we can confidently engage online with trust. A Single Sign On (SSO) which simplifies the process of accessing so many of the services we use on a daily basis – particularly social media – does not constitute anything more than basic identification. Confirmation of self reported credentials. Neither the site, nor the user can be confident that the other party is legitimate. But SSO is great – because it works (most of the time) and it is easy to use.
Imagine if you could log on and authenticate the session as easily as using an SSO? Imagine if both the site and the user could proceed with a session (transaction / communication/ engagement ) confident that the other party was 100% legitimate.
That would bring trust back to the Internet. That would allow us to realize the full potential that the Internet has to offer. That full potential being - much stronger economic growth at a time when the World is in desperate need of good news for the economy!
About the author
Ross MacDonald is CEO at Palmtree Technology LTD.