People's Trust in Digital Systems Is Failing: Here's How We Earn It Back

This isn't a simple problem to fix, but there are ways the stewards of digital systems can work to rebuild a trusting relationship with their customers. 

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The companies that operate in the digital world are losing their customers' trust. Not all of that is their fault. The internet, after all, wasn't initially designed for security concerns. Its creators apparently didn't read Hobbes. Although the wide-open and sharing nature of the internet brings us many benefits, it also has led to many catastrophic losses of personal information. It will not be easy to earn back the trust these events have caused, but it can be done.

The Why Behind Failing Confidence

There are plenty of reasons why people's trust in digital systems is rapidly degrading. We're bombarded with information 24 hours a day. Every time we want to look at a website, we're asked to hand over personal information. Technology like biometrics and location tracking seems to be getting more invasive. There are, however, three main reasons why trust is failing.

1. If the Big Guys Can't Do It, What Hope Is There?

People keep getting burned when they trust even the biggest institutions with their data. If the most prominent, wealthiest organizations — such as banks, credit bureaus or even the government — can't secure people's sensitive information, what hope could there be?

2. Our Info Is Used Against Us

The info we trust these huge conglomerates with also appears to be constantly used against us. If we visit a website and enter our email, our social media feeds and inboxes are flooded with unwelcome marketing. Have you ever sat down to unsubscribe from mailing lists because your inbox is full? It could take hours. Our data has been monetized to a degree we can't fully appreciate and it leaves most users with a sour taste in their mouths.

3. Too Many People Can't Be Trusted

Social media brings us many benefits: regular communication with friends and family, connection to the rest of the world, constant entertainment. Social engineering is, nevertheless, the technology behind our personalized Netflix feed and custom playlists. Unfortunately, however, we see time and again that our online information is anything but secure.

Criminals have found thousands of ways to find and exploit the chinks in our digital armor. They can use location services to see when you're out so they can rob your home. They can build online relationships, only to scam us for thousands of dollars. We're trusting faceless digital companies with personal information that only our closest friends and family would have known mere decades ago, and we keep seeing the consequences. No wonder people are wary of any new requests for their data.

So What Do We Do? Three Solutions to Help Rebuild Trust

This isn't a simple problem to fix, but there are ways the stewards of digital systems can work to rebuild a trusting relationship with their customers.

1. Privacy by Design

We need to start defaulting to the most private settings possible. European companies, for example, are required to allow customers to reject all but the most necessary cookies for their website. That permission comes before they even get to the website, let alone create an account. We need to simplify our terms and conditions and make transparent, simple privacy measures that people can understand.

2. Be Upfront

We need to start expressly asking people how we can use their info. In the same way you wouldn't let just anyone borrow your car, you shouldn't be forced to share your data without giving express permission. People feel more secure when they hold the keys to their online data and control when they give out those keys.

3. Putting Consumers in Control

Consumers need to be in control of their data — not companies. Blockchain technology, the force behind security concepts like digital wallets, is an excellent example. Since personal data is locked in a decentralized place where only the owner has access, it won't be compromised in a breach. Likewise, criminals can be disincentivized by measures like these because instead of harvesting thousands of users' data in one breach, they have to work a lot harder to hack just one person. Digital wallets also give the user express control over when their data is used, and it's much simpler to revoke permission to use. These measures can help truly put people back in control of their data.

Digital Systems Aren't Bad — They're Vulnerable

Digital systems aren't inherently malicious. Instead, they're full of vulnerabilities that constantly need to be mitigated. Unfortunately, users often don't see the difference. While companies have an uphill battle to rebuild the trust they've lost with their consumers, it is possible. Instead of just sticking a tourniquet on the wounds like we've been doing, we need to get closer to the source to stop the bleeding.

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