The Next Disruptive Tech on the Web? Trust

Our Digital Lives Have Evolved -- So Must Trust

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Judy Shapiro
Judy Shapiro

After reading that headline, I can see some (maybe lots) of you scratching your heads saying: "Wait a minute -- trust is a not a technology!"

A decade ago that would have been true -- it is not now.

Our digital lives were once confined to e-mail, some web surfing and an occasional online purchase (for the braver among us). A mere decade on and our lives are increasingly being lived online. Yet, while our dependence on the internet has grown exponentially, the technologies we use to navigate the sometimes dangerous, somewhat untrusted waters of the internet remain the same -- largely confined to incremental improvements in narrowly defined segments of security or access.

The unfortunate result is that the trust gap is more "gaping" than ever. On a personal level, it's difficult to authenticate what we see online, who we interact with, who we label an "expert" and what information is trustworthy. If we want to buy something online, we may know that an SSL padlock shows us that our interaction is encrypted, but it speaks nothing about the trustworthiness of whom we are encrypting with. Social networks introduce business rules to ensure privacy, but these practices are easily breached.

Businesses struggle in creating online trust practices in their operations. For example, publishers have no good way to vet untrustworthy advertisers that might be introducing malware into their ads, and marketers must trust (somewhat blindly) publishers' promises of audience delivery numbers. This situation is made even more difficult when, according to DoubleVerify, an online ad authentication company (think A.C. Nielsen for online activity), 70% of all online ad impressions served are delivered via iFrames, which exacerbates the already opaque world of the online ad environment.

While the examples above may seem unrelated, they are, in fact, emblematic of the depth of the "trust gap" in virtually every dimension of online activity. "Wait," I hear some of you thinking, "this is all well and good, but that still does not qualify trust as the next disruptive technology." I contend that it does. Here's why.

At a functional level, we need to displace our perception of trust as fairly undefined set "ideal world" goals with the notion that trust can be consistently defined, consistently applied via recognized standards and delivered to the market using specific technologies in areas of data security, identity management, online marketing, identity verification, online commerce and content authentication.

At a more philosophical level, technologies or services that enable verifiable trust can be viewed as disruptive because they will displace the current model -- where trust information is only pushed to consumers or business, haphazardly, if at all -- to a model where they can actively pull online trust credentials in real time, appropriate to the situation.

Examples of these types of technologies are arriving now and are reshaping how we think about "trust" in the digital world. Companies like DoubleVerify have created a new level of verifiable trust in how companies authenticate online ad activity. According to their CEO, Oren Netzer, they cracked the problem of measuring ad impressions delivered via iFrames so that they can audit about 90% of all online activity. Verifiable trust in this space offers significant upside for marketers, ad networks and agencies alike.

We saw another example a few weeks ago with the introduction of a new internet browser, not by a media or software company as you would expect, but by a security company called Comodo. According to Comodo's CEO Melih Abdulhayoglu, this new browser identifies non-business vetted sites and trustworthy sites, and later versions of the browser will incorporate new ways to establish trust with content authentication, significantly reducing the effectiveness of many social engineering attacks. Having a security company introduce a browser is a powerful signal of this "disruptive trend," and it makes sense. In my mind, this shift is like going from having a friendly school crossing guard come with you in your online journeys to being able to trust that you have the FBI to authenticate identities and Navy Seals to protect you as you navigate the sometimes treacherous internet.

We see this new trust model being injected into the social networking world too. A company called Twine has been working hard to create better applications with semantic technology to drive more trusted and relevant searches. And "social shopping" technologies from companies like Fluid Inc and Comodo's UserTrust allow people to leverage the intelligence of social networks to provide a diversity of trusted opinions.

These new technologies are gaining traction precisely because they reflect a maturing internet where everyone is demanding new ways to create trust (versus "security") through verification of information, business processes and expectations. In the process, they are displacing older paradigms and possibly even the market leaders who dominated in those older models.

It's a disruption whose time has come.

Judy Shapiro is chief brand strategist at CloudLinux and has held senior marketing positions at Paltalk, Comodo, Computer Associates, Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Bell Labs. Her blog, Trench Wars, provides insights on how to create business value on the internet.
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