The Internet And The Future of Online Trust

The Internet And The Future of Online Trust

​How will online trust change over the next decade? That was the focus of a new nonscientific canvassing of 1,233 individuals by the Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center, which found that most experts think “lack of trust” won’t be a barrier to society’s reliance on the Internet.​

The survey partners asked 1,233 individuals, including technologists, scholars, practitioners, strategic thinkers, and other leaders: “Will people’s trust in their online interactions, their work, shopping, social connections, pursuit of knowledge, and other activities be strengthened or diminished over the next 10 years?”

Forty-eight percent of respondents said they think online trust will be strengthened, 28 percent reported that trust will remain the same, and just 24 percent said trust will be diminished. 

“Many of these respondents made references to changes now being implemented or being considered to enhance the online trust environment,” according to Pew. “They mentioned the spread of encryption, better online identity-verification systems, tighter security standards in Internet protocols, new laws and regulations, new techno-social systems like crowdsourcing and up-voting/down-voting, or challenging online content.”

For instance, Adrian Hope-Bailie, standards officer at blockchain solution provider Ripple, participated in the survey and said technology advancements are bringing together disparate but related fields, like finance, health care, education, and politics.

“It’s only a matter of time before some standards emerge that bind the ideas of identity and personal information with these verticals such that it becomes possible to share and exchange key information, as required, and with consent to facilitate much stronger trusted relationships between users and their service providers,” Hope-Bailie explained.

One technology that respondents were asked about in particular was blockchain and the role it might play in fostering trust on the Internet. Blockchain is a digital ledger system that is encryption-protected and used to facilitate validated transactions and interactions that cannot be edited.

Other experts, however, were less optimistic about the future of trust in online interactions. Vinton Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google, and co-inventor of the Internet Protocol, participated in the survey and said that trust is “leaking” out of the Internet.

“Unless we strengthen the ability of content and service suppliers to protect users and their information, trust will continue to erode,” he explained. “Strong authentication to counter hijacking of accounts is vital.”

Overall, the survey found six major themes on the future of trust in online interactions:

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

  2. The nature of trust will become more fluid​ as technology embeds itself into human and organizational relationships.

  3. Trust will not grow, but technology usage will continue to rise, as a “new normal” sets in.

  4. Some say blockchain could help; some expect its value might be limited.

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

  6. Trust will diminish because the Internet is not secure, and powerful forces threaten individuals’ rights.