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What do we mean by the word trust?

This is a sidebar to a longer piece found at the Reynolds Journalism Institute website.


The idea of trust being outsourced is intriguing and worthy of brief discussion. We largely outsource trust to Facebook when we use Facebook. We outsource trust to Google. And we are in effect building personas, but those personas are fragmented and spread like breadcrumbs across hundreds of websites. They are not in any coordinated place, yet. There is some indication that both Facebook and Google are attempting to respond to both regulatory pressure and potential consumer interest in creating a persona dashboard. This is a promising development -- but only if those persona silos are able, one day, to be shared, disconnected and moved, all under the consumer’s purview and control.

Inherent in the word trust is usually the need for an intermediary. In human communities, I trust somebody else in the community either because I have direct personal interactions with them (which I judge to be favorable), or because they’re vouched for by some third party, like a bank or social-service entity, an affinity group, school or mutual friend. Because the web is virtual, and face-to-face interactions impossible, trust has to be built either through those third-party references or through some method of direct though virtual interaction such as friends in Facebook.

Knight Foundation vice president John Bracken and engineer turned accidental entrepreneur Craig Newmark, founder and principal owner of Craigslist, have been saying since 2010 that a distributed trust network – to help people manage their reputations and privacy, is the “next big thing on the web.” Newmark told GigaOhm’s Matthew Ingram in a video interview that as a society we needed to “get our act together and make this happen.”

Patrick L. Plaisance, a Colorado State University journalism professor, has written about the Trust Project at Santa Clara University, which has adopted a sub-focus on journalism through leadership from a Google Inc., executive, Richard Gingras. “Journalists across the country are taking trust seriously,” writes Plaisance. “Historically, journalists have done a lousy job explaining themselves to the public they serve, resulting in a chronic disconnect between newsroom culture and what audiences expect.”

In an increasingly virtual and global society trust is almost always outsourced. It’s increasingly rare that trust is based upon direct, face-to-face, one-to-one relationships. The Visa network is really more a trust network than a financial network if you think about it. It allows me to walk into a bank in Prague and withdraw or borrow money by presenting my Visa card. The Prague bank has no basis to trust me personally, it’s just that I have an account with a bank that is a member of the Visa network, and that means they know they will be paid back – if they give me some cash. They are trusting a third party – Visa – and extending that umbrella of shared trust to me.

In one context, trust can refer to trustworthy information, such as news. In another context it can imply the trustworthy use of information. In Bellevue, Wash., former Microsoft Inc. executive Craig Spiezle has helped for the Online Trust Alliance, a 501(c)3 nonprofit backed by Microsoft, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Verisign, Constant Contact, Symantec, Publishers Clearing House, American Greetings, comScore and a set of other technology and marketing companies. Its mission is “to enhance online trust and user empowerment” and protect users’ security, privacy and identity. OTA supports collaborative public-private partnerships, benchmark reporting, meaningful self-regulation and data stewardship. “We represent businesses that want to do the right thing and consumers who want a more safe experience,” says Spiezle. There is lots of room for improving trust in the advertising world, he says. The voluntary “do not track” initiative is a failure, because few advertisers are respecting it. “Users are setting it, but no one is honoring it.” Former FCC official Fred Campbell agreed in a December 2014 New York Times op-ed.

The point of a shared-user network for trust, identity, privacy and information commerce is to create that kind of third-party trust infrastructure for information commerce. It is not to overcome or supplant the investment in sharing and persona management that existing institutions already have. What’s necessary is to create a framework that allows the existing institutions to leverage the trust relationships they’ve already built with their users – to enable additional commerce across additional platforms and in other areas – and to share that trust and those relationships with other parties.

“You've got the title right. This is going to rise and fall on trust,” says Bill Schubart, founder of the Vermont Journalism Trust and a former New York-based publisher, music-industry and media entrepreneur. “When I looked at that the first thing I thought of was an organization that defines and establishes journalistic integrity. That was the first thing I thought of. I didn't think about data trust, I didn't think about commerce trust. I thought about an association that said you have been branded as a trustworthy journalistic enterprise based on your standards. Antitrust never entered my mind. In fact, when you raise it lower in your piece, I thought it was irrelevant. It didn't even occur to me."

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