To trust, or not to trust

20 Jul

Do you trust? That is a vague question. It is very difficult to reply to this question with a definitive answer.

Do you trust [something]? That is a better question. Most likely, one will be comfortable to give a specific answer.

Do you trust [someone]? Here comes the complexity. The process of determining to trust someone has sevaral factors to weigh in. Trusting a person almost always requires an action or objective to qualify with, so that the affirmation of trust can be deduced. Trusting a non-human also requires additional qualification, but with a non-human, the purpose is mostly inherent and intended.

When I read this article on New York Times about the evolution of trust, it raised a few questions about trust and how we model in in computing and compute driven social environments. The computability of (or quantifying) trust and deduction of trust is, in general, an ever evolving and complex problem.

For non-humans we encounter in digital world, the establishment of trust is thru hashes, digital certificates, digital signatures, etc. and are continuously solved by entities like EMC’s RSA. For example, we may readily trust a PGP signed email or a shopping site that is protected by an SSL Certificate.

Trusting humans we meet online is nothing new. Social networking sites took the concept of acquaintance to a new dimension. Social Networking is slowly morphing the concept of acquaintance to a basis of trust establishment. For example, how many Facebook applications did you install (and trust) recently? How many people (those you have never met in the real world) did you befriend online and as a result, trusted them with your contacts, some amount of personal details, pictures, etc.? More often than not, social networking thrives on establishing trust beyond the immediate circle of acquaintance. Alluring to trust a friend of a friend  is the concept on which social networking thrives.

Shopping sites like EBay and Amazon have rating systems both at the product level and at seller level. Most of these ratings are based on previous transactions and respective human responses. The ratings quantify the transaction and response information to form a basis for trust. Customers make shopping transactions that are heavily influenced by these seller and product ratings.

Those two needs of trusting humans, for digital information and shopping transactions, have certain level of intrusion into the personal space. But the intrusive nature of services like Airbnb into one’s personal space is more physical and prominent.  The concept of giving someone (you possibly don’t know) access to physical resources has a considerable mental barrier. Service providers in this space will continuously try to lower that barrier or find ways to pass that barrier with quantified computation of trust. New dimensions of trust establishment are likely to emerge for solving this need. This space is likely to go beyond simple rating systems by the service providers.



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