Our lives are digitised. We interact digitally so often and, in such depth, that it is difficult to imagine for some, or remember, for others, what life without our digital twin would be like.
My smartphone can tell you as much about me – my interests, my habits, who I speak to, what I say, my thoughts, and my purchases – more accurately than I can. The visual catalogue of my life is available in ‘My Photos’. Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and a host of other multinationals also don’t need me to know me to tell you about me. My digital twin is a gregarious sharer who will happily tell you more about me than I ever will.
Trust is at the foundation of all lasting relationships and is central to relationships that fail. The way I calculate and place trust when I’m in my skin seems to be different to the way I trust when I’m digitised.
But the question of digital trust is often phrased as: ‘has technology changed the way we trust?’. Trust is implicit in the problems emerging technologies are trying to fix but also in the questions they are raising.
For example, blockchain and zero-trust information security both seek to address the challenge of on-line trust in a digital world, while technologies such as artificial intelligence raise more philosophical questions about human-machine trust. Questions about how we trust in a digital world are becoming important for governments, businesses, and individuals.
Digital trust underpins every digital interaction we make. It is the measure of our confidence that the information and interactions we have online are secure. So, how do we make a trust calculation in a digital world?
The Cambridge Analytica scandal in which 87 million Facebook profiles were misappropriated was a focus for governments and commentators. The link to voter manipulation in several countries and Mark Zuckerberg’s grilling by the United States Congress raised important questions about the role of business in safeguarding information but also monitoring the accessibility and uses to which that information is put. However, it did not seem to diminish the use of Facebook by users.
Contrast the way we respond to a profound breach of trust by Facebook with the way we hold government to account for service delivery failures. In Australia, ‘robodebt’ has undermined public trust in government service delivery. It has been reported the federal government may be forced to refund 400,000 welfare debts worth about $500 million while class action claims are emerging. While the economic cost of failure is high, the damage to public trust and confidence in government service delivery is corrosive.
In our interactions with government, privacy is expected but trust is earned. The public holds the government entities to a higher standard of accountability than business. And, as the number and complexity of identity-dependent transactions with government grows, and the digital interdependence between government and business deepens, our expectations of trust will continue to rise.
How can government build enduring digital trust with the public?
It is a rarely acknowledged fact that governments and businesses depend on trust for effective operations.
Reduced trust in government requires more intrusive policy and regulation which in the digital economy is a source friction that will not be tolerated. A reduction of customer trust in business can be existential. The Hayne Royal Commission into banking highlighted greed, hubris and weak regulation in the financial sector.
It called out a toxic culture that lead to a profound breach of customer trust. A little over a year on from when the final report was delivered, questions are being asked about what’s changed. The erosion of public trust in the financial sector is a central concern for both government and business.
For governments, and those institutions that most directly expose us to the interdependence of the global economy, trust is easily dissipated by real and perceived failures in service delivery more readily than those institutions can build it up again. When the global becomes quickly becomes local, public trust is front of mind.
As governments across the world respond to the unanticipated shock of COVID-19, public trust is currency. The economy, workforce, and the community have moved on mass into digital realm. Some governments are ill-equipped to meet the demands of mass digital migration.
In many countries, digital infrastructure and workforce flexibility are being tested as they try to maintain productivity. The ability of governments and businesses to secure the digital economy is an emerging question.
As governments channel more and more resources into digital services and functions, it is likely that leaders will awaken to the critical requirement to prioritise digital trust.
Failure or setbacks in crisis will be judged harshly by an exposed and fearful public. As COVID-19 moves from crisis to recovery to the ‘new normal’, Governments will need to focus on renewing, and maybe reimagining, digital trust.
In recovery, there will be economic winners and losers. The speed with which nations can step confidently into an expanded digital economy will be a measure of success. Public trust and business confidence to step into that new economy will be critical.
Building digital trust in the year that everything changed
Synergy is exploring expanding boundaries of digital trust.
We are asking questions about how governments build public trust in service delivery, the expanding role of business as a key source of trust in the community, the size and scope of the digital economy and how it might be secured, and the behavioural change that will be necessary to make the most of the opportunities.
We have only just begun to explore digital trust. If you want to be a part of our digital trust adventure, stay tuned.