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Building Trust 27 August 2019

Improving Internet Trust: Ironing out the Details

By Ryan PolkDirector, Internet Policy

We all can make some pretty rash decisions under stress. I once burned a hole through my undershirt instead of ironing my button-down shirt because I was so nervous before a presentation.

The Internet has its challenges and sometimes can seem like a scary place. In the 2019 survey, the CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey on Internet Security and Trust, 62% of respondents who said they distrust the Internet cited a lack of Internet security as a reason why.

When it comes to facing challenges on the Internet, everyone, from average Internet users to government officials, tends to act the same way I do before presentations – frantically and with questionable results.

In pursuit of security, some governments are making decisions that could harm the Internet as we know it. They’ve taken actions that could weaken digital security, have the potential to fracture the Internet, and some have even shut the Internet down in their country. Like burning a hole through an undershirt and having to wear a wrinkled button-down shirt to a presentation, these actions do little, and make things worse.

The survey results highlighted in our report, “The State of User Privacy and Trust Online,” tell a similar story about average users.

Acting in response to their distrust of the Internet, 18% said they were making fewer online purchases and 13% were using the Internet less often. A full 49% said they were sharing less personal information online. I understand sharing less personal information, for instance, I don’t want everyone to know all of the mundane details of my life. Yet, self-censoring yourself online or using the Internet less, whether for online purchases or in general, can be limiting. It is much more convenient to be able to buy new undershirts online, without having to worry about my credit card being stolen.

Despite being one of the best tools people can use to protect themselves online, only 19% said they were using more encryption or other privacy and security-enhancing tools. Encryption helps us get data to whom we want and without anyone else seeing or messing with it along the way.

How can we get more people to turn to encryption to better protect themselves online?

  • Make it easier to use. More companies need to build end-to-end encryption into their services, turn it on by default and make it easy to use. After my ironing fiasco, I did the same thing and bought a few of those “wrinkle-free” button-down shirts.
  • Stand up for encryption. When governments try to weaken encryption technologies to facilitate government access, they put the security of all of us at greater risk. Can you imagine if the only irons we were allowed to have were hard-set to a low temperature? No one would have unwrinkled shirts – except those with black market irons.
  • Teach others about encryption. Teaching others the value of encryption and how to use encrypted services is a crucial step towards a safer Internet. My parents taught me the value of an unwrinkled dress shirt and how to get there.

While I’ve not always been so successful when it comes to ironing shirts, I still have the tools, both in the iron, the “wrinkle-free” shirts, and the know-how for success. Everyday users need the same for encryption. Only then can we move away from less effective security and towards a safer Internet.

Check out our report, The State of User Privacy and Trust Online, and take these 5 steps to make sure you’re as secure as you can be!

Ipsos conducted the 5th annual CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey on Internet Security and Trust on behalf of the Canadian think tank the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in partnership with the Internet Society (ISOC) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The findings are a result of more than 25,000 interviews with Internet users in 25 economies on issues related to Internet security and trust.

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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