The internet is broken – but we are still asked to “trust” it?

– by Gry Hasselbalch

“Trust ” was the word of the year. Everyone talks about “trust in the Internet ” as something that needs to be restored and rebuilt. And the mistrust in the internet that followed last year’s revelations about mass surveillance is presented as a core problem. But perhaps we shouldn’t aim to reestablish trust in an internet that is fundamentally broken, before we have actually fixed it.

Particularly politicians’ and industry giants’ like to talk about trust in the internet. And it does make sense, because “trust” is one of the Internet’s fundamental building blocks. The driver for digital media services and business models and the basis for successful public digital solutions. “Trust ” is fundamentally capital.

But “distrust” is increasingly the sentiment of the Internet population. Their trust in an Internet that is created for them and their needs has over the last few years steadily decreased. And then came the summer of 2013 when our “trust ” in the Internet was truly shaken. The “Snowden effect” includes a general uncertainty among Internet users about the security of their data.

And when trust turns into distrust, people start acting differently. Some disinstall certain apps that they do not trust. Others choose alternative services etc. And when trust evaporates, revenues and arguments for great new public digital solutions dissolve with it, which of course can only send shivers down the spine of some.

But is lack of trust not exactly what we need? Maybe it was the distrust that made 28% of the Internet population start using “privacy tools”. Distrust has also created a momentum for a lot of innovative ideas and initiatives related to the architecture and future of the internet (such as  the Dark Mail Alliance and Indie Tech movement). Mistrust sets us a step back, but it’s a necessary step, because the Internet is broken (“The Internet is broken “).

Maybe we should actually start over and ask ourselves what kind of Internet we want. An Internet that provides room for innovation and where new ideas can flourish freely (“What Privacy is for “ Julie Cohen) or something else. And while we wonder and disagree on this basic issue in international fora, mistrust is actually the very best attitude to have.

Perhaps one might even call “distrust” one of the highlights in the Internet’s evolution.


Image: CC-BY-SA-3.0

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