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Building Trust 24 April 2017

Survey Paints A Bleak Picture of the Current State of Trust Online

Sally Shipman Wentworth
By Sally Shipman WentworthVice President of Global Policy Development

The 2017 CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey on Internet Security and Trust paints a bleak picture of the current state of trust online. A majority of those surveyed said they are more concerned about their privacy than the year before, with an almost even split between those “much more concerned” and those only “somewhat more concerned”. When asked whether they agree with the statement “overall, I trust the Internet”, only 12% of respondents strongly agreed and a further 43% somewhat agreed. This means only a little more than half agreed that they trust the Internet, and some even expressed some reservation by choosing to respond “somewhat agree”.

CIGI and Ipsos, with support from the Internet Society, conducted the survey in 24 economies (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States) with 24,225 Internet users. This is CIGI’s 3rd Global Survey on Internet Security and Trust. It covers a range of issues including: Internet trust, privacy, e-commerce, and online habits.

The results are concerning.

User trust is important to the future success of the Internet because if users do not trust the Internet, they will restrict their use, and may even cease using it for certain activities. This could have a serious impact on the evolution of the Internet, its use and growth.

Among the main reasons cited by respondents as to why they disagree that they trust the Internet were:

  • the Internet is not secure (65%)
  • the Internet is not reliable (40%)
  • the Internet does not allow them to communicate privately (27%).

Perceptions about who controls the Internet also appear to be a factor in respondents’ attitudes to trust in the Internet. In each case, over a quarter of respondents who answered the same question, cited control over the Internet by foreign or domestic governments, or corporate elites as a reason.

While a relatively small fraction of respondents reported that they are using the Internet less often because of their privacy concerns and/or a lack of trust, many are using the Internet differently and more selectively.

In some cases, users are being more careful about the personal information they disclose online. Unfortunately, respondents’ lack of trust has also caused some to self-censor.

20% of those who did not agree that they trust the Internet said they were using more encryption in response.

Respondents were also asked a number of questions about how they have changed their online behavior compared to the previous year. 14% noted that they had changed their online behavior to use encrypted communications services.

These are not large figures, but that is not surprising. Encryption is an important tool for securing communications and data, yet it is often not easy for users to implement. In an earlier survey conducted by the Internet Society, users reported a number of obstacles, including: usability issues; dependency on other users using the same tools; insufficient information on how to use them; and incompatibility.

Perhaps even more concerning, nearly 20% of those who did not agree that they trust the Internet are making fewer online purchases as a result. This has a direct impact on economic growth.

We must address diminishing user trust as a priority if we want to protect the opportunities of the Internet. Building user trust means putting in place the right infrastructure (trusted networks), empowering users to protect their activities (technologies for trust), setting the right policies, and providing a responsive environment that properly addresses users’ well-founded concerns (trustworthy ecosystem).

There are several actions we can take today to make the Internet more trusted. One of the simplest and most essential is implementing strong encryption. Strong encryption is a critical piece to the future of the world’s economy. It should be the norm for all online interactions. It allows us to confidently do our banking, conduct business, operate communications networks and share information privately.

I invite you to join us in encouraging business and government leaders around the world to strengthen the Internet through encryption.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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