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When we get into our car, we don’t carefully inspect the brake lines, the brake pedal assembly or the integrity of the master cylinder – we trust that when we step on the brakes our car will stop safely. The same goes for just about everything else we do – we don’t inspect the architectural drawings of the 70-story building in which we have a client meeting, we don’t wonder if that dollar bill or Euro banknote or pound note is going to be accepted by a cashier when we make a purchase, and we don’t run a chemical analysis of our breakfast cereal. In short, we place a tremendous amount of trust in things, people and institutions – and in most cases we do so without any sort of verification that our trust is well placed.
What happens when trust breaks down? What would happen if you couldn’t trust your bank to return your money on demand, if insider trading were allowed to take place without any oversight, or if you had no faith in the bolts that held the wing to the fuselage you’re about to enter? Our institutions would break down and commerce would come to a grinding halt. Not to stretch an analogy too far, but you can almost think of trust as the grease that lubricates the wheels of commerce – without trust there would simply be too much friction to allow commerce to take place.
This is not merely a theoretical issue: a global survey that was sponsored and published by RSA in 2010 found that four out of five online users “are concerned about the safety of their personal information online.” A communications manager for Visa Europe noted, “75% of consumers say they would not shop at a store that had suffered a data breach.”
Electronic trust cuts across a wide swath of interest areas – e-commerce solutions that will prevent confidential information like credit card numbers from being stolen, anti-phishing and anti-malware solutions that will prevent users from being tricked into revealing sensitive information online, anti-spam solutions that will enable email to remain a viable communications medium, government initiatives that will enable e- greater access and openness, authentication technologies that will enable consumers and others to confidentially engage in online activities, etc.
I am pleased to have recently become a member of the Online Trust Alliance (OTA), a community of vendors and others that are focused on developing best practices, promoting technologies and raising the awareness of just how important trust is to every aspect of online communications and commerce. I hope to be able to contribute to the ongoing work of this fine organization. I encourage anyone interested in online trust to check them out.
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