People’s perception of the internet has seen a drastic change in recent times. As more users join the internet every day, they add more devices and technologies to gather data. Our information is tracked, stored and used in ways we cannot even imagine. And it feels like we have no control over it, but we are on the outside, looking in.
This situation seems similar to that one episode from the yesteryears’ classic show “I Love Lucy”. This is peculiar because Lucy realizes something while she fails the task of wrapping candies at work. When she couldn’t keep up with it, the truth dawns on her and she says to her friend, “I think we’re fighting a losing game.” That, right there, is the exact situation we are in today. The legal system and the economy are losing and if this continues, there will be chaos in the society. Individuals are now realizing the potential of the internet and started to lose their trust.
Why Is Trust Important In the Connected World?
People use the internet on a daily basis- to browse for information, for e-commerce, watch documentaries or to stream a live match. We trust the information readily available to us on the internet. However, there might be some dubious websites which spread false news or which manipulate our data. Hence, we need a system where we can invest our complete trust. Let us see why trust is important:
How We View Trust In the Digital World
Though the below might look like theoretical examples in real life, they also hold true for the online world.
When we consult a physician regarding our illness, we trust him in our best interests. We trust that the medication he prescribed rids of the illness. Same is the case with a bank or financial institution. We trust them with our assets, to keep them safe and handle our transactions without glitches. Similarly, we entrust the safety of our information with the web and expect that it handles our private communications discreetly. And for a while, we all had a great going.
Events That Made People Lose Trust in the Internet
Recently, there have been many revelations about how technology is being used, that caused upheaval in the internet user circles. Many scams were unearthed, digital threats manifested, ransomware attacks and data breaches were successful.
We learned that websites not only track our activities but also can sell our information to companies or manipulate our thoughts. The governments and authorities make laws to facilitate mass surveillance on the internet. People can’t just sit back and relax while there are so many digital threats lurking on every site.
Major Headlines That Shattered People’s Trust
One of the major stories that hit the news happened way back in 2013. People’s apprehensions started to build after the Snowden revelations. The long reports exposed how authorities act when they suspect a threat to national security- all based on our internet history. According to Michael Hayden, former Director- NSA and CIA, they can learn a lot about a person based on how they use the internet. Here is the statement he made- in his own words- “we kill people based on metadata.”
The next example here is the most recent one- the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The organization, in their disclosure, revealed how social media giants use their consumer data. More stories have erupted that became successful in catching people’s attention. The blind faith that our private data is impervious to data breaches or information misuse has been shattered. These and many more headlines made us aware of how our sensitive information could be found in the most unexpected places.
Why Users Activities Are Tracked
Whenever we log in to a website, our identity is revealed. Tracking software and website analytics are also used to collect consumer data. ISPs allow the websites to keep track of our IP address, which also means their servers get hold of our geographical location, may be an approximate estimation of the city we reside in.
Now, what do the websites do with this wealth of information? They put all these pieces together to create our unique identity. Advertisers and third-party services pay the websites for this information. This is how we are able to see personalized ads on the web pages we visit. The websites benefit as they sell more space to the advertisers so they can reach a wider demographic, making it a win-win scenario for both.
On a much serious note, these websites can also hand over our private data to the governments, especially in non-democratic nations. And one this happens, there is no dearth of possibilities for what consequences we could face.
How Exactly Did The Internet Fail Its Users
In the above example of trust in the real world, there was a mention of banks or doctors. While it is up to us to choose as per our reasoning, we also have the right to disengage and seek other options or services. This is known as the escape clause. This, however, is lacking in the digital world. We are stuck with what we choose, and the choice of trust is direct. There are no gatekeepers to filter out the bad for us.
Also, we enter a contract with the bank regarding the services they provide. But the internet provides no such agreement. We are stuck, once again with our choice, when we pick an ISP and pay for their service. Our relationship begins and ends there.
The Internet is centralized and whatever we did or continue doing, only we can limit how much trust we put into it. Trust is non-negotiable in the digital world.
Will People Put Their Trust In The Internet Ever Again?
As per the recent survey of the World Economic Forum, there is almost 31% decrease in the number of US-based internet users for a service, as they realized they have no control over their data. In 2017, Knight-Gallup conducted a survey that revealed that 50% of internet users in the US worry about companies snooping on them and 38% are scared of government surveillance.
In such a scenario, it is difficult to say whether people will trust the internet ever again unless necessary steps are taken by governments. The internet community also must come together to find solutions to increase online privacy. One such solution is end-to-end data encryption. Third parties shouldn’t create backdoors and websites and companies must be more transparent about how they use our data. Only then, people can trust the internet again.