(CN) – A new study by the Pew Research Center explores the concept of trust as it relates to our ever-increasing digitally connected world – and finds that our trust in the internet is as varied as the answers found in a Google search.
A panel of experts surveyed by Pew gave a variety of responses to the central question of how society’s collective concept of trust will change as our daily lives become more dependent on online interactions.
The responses ranged from seeing an improvement in trust due to better cybersecurity systems to an outright diminishment in trust as those in power take control of the internet and use it to encroach on individual rights.
“They predict there will be a greater fluidity in trust and distrusting behaviors as technology embeds itself evermore into human relationships,” said Lee Rainie, director of internet and technology research at Pew Research Center and a co-author of the report. “Trust itself will become more contingent and transactional. Some argued that, as the public’s trust in institutions declines and as online social spaces become filled with disputed facts, people will start to allocate trust on a case-by-case, even moment-to-moment basis.”
The non-scientific survey was taken between July and August 2016.
The research began from the premise that trust, according to a large body of social research, is an integral factor in overall happiness and wellness in humans, in collective problem solving, economic development and social cohesion.
“Trust has not been having a good run in recent years, and there is considerable concern that people’s uses of the internet are a major contributor to the problem,” Raine and Pew researcher Janna Anderson said in a blog post about the study.
The problem for some is that the internet was developed and cultivated without privacy and security as a centerpiece. As more humans and machines connect to the internet, this lack of central security could erode people’s faith in the benefits of technological progress.
“Technology is far outpacing security, privacy and reliability. The problem will intensify with the Internet of Things, as the internet connects more machines in the physical world,” said Mark Rotenberg, executive director of Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Further exacerbating this trend is the lack of incentive for government and private companies to address privacy and security leakage from the online ecosystem.
“Surveillance is the biggest obstacle to trust,” said Dave Burstein, editor at Fast Net News. “It will increase as countries other than the U.S. deploy the tools. Multinationals like Facebook and Google/Doubleclick will become even more effective at tracking, and they will be ubiquitous.”
But not everyone has such a pessimistic view of trust as it moves through the Digital Age. In fact, contrary to arguments regarding a lack of incentive to introduce security, some see the increasing demand by corporations and individuals who have been hacked for solutions as an engine for progress that will induce more widespread trust in online systems.
“Governments and financial companies want their systems secure and transparent, so they will work hard to make them so,” said Hume Winzar, associate professor in business at Macquarie University in Australia. “This will relieve people’s concerns.”
But Winzar also touched on the middle road view between the dim and bright outlooks for trust in the Internet Age when he said:
“Many services will be simply unavailable except online, so people will have to trust them whether they’re skeptical or not.”
Most people said there was an air of inevitability to the centralization of online connections in people’s lives in the near and distant future, whether it be online banking, applying for jobs online, using the internet to conduct job-related research or engaging in social media.
“Trust will be strengthened, but it will be blind trust enforced by the ceaseless demands of The System, hell-bent to drive everyone online,” said Ebenezer Baldwin Bowles, founder of Corndancer.com. “Resistance to the interests of the corporate state will be futile if one wants to participate in the commonplace activities of household management and personal finances, or seek diagnosis and treatment from medical practitioners, or pass a brick-and-mortar course in high school or university.”
Others said it is not a matter of futile resistance, but about more and more people willing to give up security and privacy for the convenience that the digital sphere affords.
“Trust’ is neither the inhibitor nor driver for adoption of online interactions,” said Tom Ryan, CEO of eLearn Institute. “Convenience will drive adoption.”