Trust in tech is eroding: how can we rebuild it?

The Edelman Trust Barometer paints a worrying picture of trust in tech. In 2012 trust in tech was 30 points higher than trust in business in general. In the last 10 years that margin has eroded to just ten points, with trust in tech slumping from 77% to 68% at the same time that trust in other types of business has actually grown.

COVID-19 further challenged our trust in tech according to Edelman, which declined by 16 percentage points in China, 13 points in Canada and 12 in the UK in the past year. Edelman points to a growing divide – trust in tech remains high in developing markets such as Indonesia, India, China and Mexico, but is falling in the US, France, Japan and the UK.

The question is, what can be done about this worrying drop in trust in the sector – if anything?

This was the subject of a recent EURACTIV-GIGAEurope Digital Debate, where participants argued that there were a number of components to digital trust, including confidence in the right infrastructure, feeling safe in the digital environment, making it easier for the public to understand the issues and participate, and a partnership approach between the industry, the public and public authorities.

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission

The European Commission advocates an improvement in both digital skills and trust in technology. But what is trust based on? According to Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission, one of the key building blocks is confidence in the digital infrastructure itself. “The pandemic made us all see that this is not just a technical matter, it’s a matter of social inclusion,” she said.

Joakim Reiter, GIGAEurope Co-Chairman

“The ball is firmly in the court of policymakers, Member States and business to deliver on the Digital Decade promise,” argued Joakim Reiter, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer and Executive Committee Member, Vodafone Group and GIGAEurope Co-Chairman. He explained that there is a foundational, “bricks and mortar” element to trust in digital technologies that begins with confidence in the digital infrastructure. “If we can deliver fast, secure and reliable internet access to citizens across the continent and help develop digital skills, we can ultimately reduce the rural digital divide, demonstrate the benefits of connectivity, and earn trust from citizens,” he said.

Manuel Kohnstamm, GIGAEurope Co-Chairman

Manuel Kohnstamm, Senior Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Liberty Global and GIGAEurope Co-Chairman agreed. “As an industry we have a collective responsibility to ensure that high-quality and reliable gigabit networks, with full transparency around the use of data, provide the platform on which digital innovation can flourish, improving the lives of millions of EU citizens.”

David Stevens, President of Belgian Data Protection Authority

Brando Benifei, MEP and lead negotiator on the Artificial Intelligence Act in IMCO, pointed out that a successful digital transition cannot happen if citizens are not behind it. David Stevens, President of the Belgian Data Protection Authority, noted that building trust required companies and authorities to work to make the issues more accessible to ordinary people . “Simplicity is key in realising citizen empowerment in the digital world and is needed to increase citizens’ trust in digital,” he argued. “All stakeholders must work together to make rules and risks simple and easy to understand.”

Lorena Boix Alonso, Director Digital Society, Trust & Cybersecurity, DG CONNECT

But with the public wary of new technologies and fearful of cybercrime, it’s essential that developers and authorities work together. Lorena Boix Alonso, Director, Digital Society, Trust & Cybersecurity, DG CONNECT, European Commission said that Europe needs to be ready for “large-scale” cyberattacks and advocates that the key to combatting these is to build resilience through investment, have a supportive regulatory environment, and share information.

Brando Benifei MEP

Brando Benifei agreed that a partnership approach was also necessary to build confidence in new technologies such as AI. He said that ensuring that technology such as AI is safe, robust and trustworthy requires a balance between self-assessment by AI developers and ex-ante controls by institutions.

Margrethe Vestager concluded that trust requires both consumers and businesses to have digital confidence in their infrastructure. “Infrastructure creates a strong foundation of trust,” she said. But she went on to argue that this has to be combined with knowledge, skills and measures such as the 5G security toolbox, which are both essential and urgently needed.

You can view a replay of the full debate here: