Trust in the Digital Era

Trust. I would argue it is the foundation of all relationships – personal, business, and technological.


I think it is safe to say trust is something Boston College and college in general work to teach us. We trust ourselves that even though we only studied 10 minutes rather than the 3 hours we were planning to study that our natural intelligence will help us pass this test. We trust our roommates that they have our back and will bring us the White Mountain they promised. We trust our peers in our clubs in which we may be vulnerable or may rely on each other to get things done.

We also place a lot of trust into social media and digital business. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be getting into the back of people’s cars alone at night to get home from a restaurant or bar or that when I was abroad I would be staying in other people’s houses that I found online, I would have appreciated you thinking I was that easygoing and adventurous and would also have laughed in your face.

We wear FitBits and Apple Watches that track more personal information than ever before.

We trust the Internet with our information even though I swear if I even think about something, it then pops up on my suggested Instagram followers and all over my computer.

Where is the boundary for companies like Apple and Google to share our information? We trust them to keep it private, but what about when it may contain information that is could harm our safety?

Digital business is endlessly connected and constantly changing, so how do companies and technologies garner people’s trust?

Accenture argues with the new digital world and its increase in scale, trust has become the cornerstone of the digital economy. In Accenture’s Trust in the Digital Age study, 80% of customers said they won’t do business with companies they don’t trust. In this digital era, companies have to consider customer trust at every level of the data supply chain – from collection, aggregation, sharing and analysis, to monetization, storage, and disposal. Managing this data supply chain effectively and in a way that protects customers and gains their trust can have a decisive impact on reputation and effectiveness. How companies manage, secure, and share the data they capture has become a competitive advantage and a determinant of profitable customer relationships. Companies that are able to gain customers’ trust are able to capture the most valuable customer data and work toward full digital business potential.

Accenture argues customer trust in a digital business is built on digital ethics and security. They recommend that in order to gain customers’ trust, companies must:

  1. Elevate trust to the C-Suite – choose leaders capable of creating a culture of transparency
  2. Rewrite the trust equation – identify and strengthen elements of trust to gain customer confidence
  3. Keep customers at the center – capture only necessary data and use it to enhance customer experience
  4. Embed trust into the fabric of the organization – put trust at the center of customer strategies and operating models
  5. Make trust a cornerstone of partnership models – establish common ethical standards and technical safeguards for all ecosystem participants

Companies must take preemptive action to reduce digital risk and gain customer trust. If companies wait to address their data ethics and policies until something goes wrong, they expose themselves to digital and reputational risk. For example, in 2014, Facebook experimented with the emotional impact of negative news stories on 700,000 users, violating informed consent, which made headlines and forced them to issue an apology. As a result of the public outrage, Facebook changed their data policies.

In another example, in January, Lyft released a statement that they were looking into allegations that employees misuse customer data, and potentially abuse information like locations and phone numbers.

Companies such as AT&T, Coca-Cola, Verizon, Google, and Mazda are taking preemptive steps to gain customer trust through data ethics and security improvements. In order to ensure high data integrity, in November 2017, AT&T and Amazon Web Servies (AWS) announced a set of solutions to improve cloud security for their joint business customers.

Through taking these actions to gain customers’ trust across all channels, companies are able to maximize data, reduce risk, disrupt their own markets and enter new ones, and set themselves apart from competitors.

This research has caused me to be more aware of how I place trust into companies and lean more into the discomfort I feel at times with the way my data is captured and used. Just as we push for trust in our personal relationships, I think we must push for and demand this same level of trust in our digital relationships.






  1. mikecarillo111 · ·

    I have been battling with the question of how much trust to put into digital companies for years. I think most people worry about their information being out there to be hacked/accessed. However, how are we supposed to navigate the digital world and not throw our trust into companies that are so enormous and intertwined with our lives now? I really liked the articles that you linked into this, I think it definitely made it easier to understand what businesses are doing to establish this trust. I feel as though it is near impossible to not have some blind trust in digital companies unless you want to live like Ron Swanson. Overall, interesting blog!

    1. katietisinger · ·

      Haha, I totally agree Mike, it’s almost impossible to live a life that doesn’t throw a lot of trust into companies because digital is so intertwined with our lives. I am fascinated to see how companies are proactive in recognizing and working with this trust.

  2. katherinekorol · ·

    Great post, Katie. Trust in companies is something I think about a lot, and I think it has a lot to do with my blog past on Wag, that I will be posting tomorrow. Wag requires that owners trust their walkers, and walkers trust the owners. There have been a lot of incidents that have come up, but the company hasn’t done much to try to prevent it further.

    Especially with an app like Airbnb, where we are literally staying in a stranger’s home, there is a ton of trust involved. I feel like nowadays people just trust the companies in general, especially because they usually advertise the background checks that people go through and give priority to users who have had a good track record and good reviews. I know I have put a lot of trust into the apps and social media that I use, and I guess I can only hope that it’s not going to be broken any time soon.

    1. katietisinger · ·

      I think you make an awesome point that they are using trust to try to advertise to us, like the background posts you mention. I think it will definitely be interesting to see how companies continue to try to use trust to garner customers and how they react when trust is broken.

  3. murphycobc · ·

    Katie, I totally connect with this post!

    Trust is such an interesting thing. I don’t inherently trust strangers, yet, because Lyft says it s okay, I get into their car. It is one of the reasons however I use Lyft, and not Uber, because I believe the corporate response to complaints has validated the trust I put into the company. And with Airbnb, I rolled into Portgual speaking zero Portuguese and a plan to meet a stranger on a road outside of his house. Again, ask me that question even 5 years ago I would have said never in a million years.

    There is this idea that trust in companies has become almost entwined with our technology use. I think about rideshare apps, and the fact that if I did go missing (God forbid, knock on wood) my app would have recorded my last whereabouts. I also think about the story of the woman who’s fitness tracker logged her escape from a would be attacker. While she thankful escaped, that information would have been crucial in finding her if someone was looking.

    It doesn’t mean I still don’t have doubts every once and a while and that my Snapmap is heavily protected. Because not EVERYONE needs to know, right?

    1. katietisinger · ·

      Hahaha, my Snapmap is heavily protected as well!! I think you bring up an interesting point about some of the benefits of companies tracking our data. I wonder if companies will start to advertise that more as technology becomes even more entwined with companies. I know I am more willing to allow Uber or Lyft to access more of my personal information if it also means they are tracking me in case I end up in an unsafe position.

  4. profgarbusm · ·

    Hi Katie!

    Loved the post and the very relatable content you began with. Trust is certainly a cornerstone of everyday lives, particularly as we come into the modern age.
    I was wondering whether based on your statement “we must push for and demand this same level of trust in our digital relationships” whether or not you think we actually think we trust our digital relationships more than we do our personal ones? I feel much more comfortable punching my SSN into a trusted website then say, giving it to a friend. I think actually we need to trust our personal relationships much like we trust technology, and that in turn would result in a higher quality of life.
    I also do wonder how you might recommend a company handle the crisis once they have violated trust? The New York Rangers recently sent out a letter to all season ticket holders informing them that while familiar faces may be traded in the coming weeks, that they hope to be transparent in that this is to overall build their best chance at a contender not only for this year, but for years to come. Transparency, not only security, in my opinion is a great way to recover and earn trust.

    1. katietisinger · ·

      Thanks so much for your comment, definitely some awesome points to reflect on. Your point about being more comfortable punching in your SSN into a trusted website rather than giving it to a friend is incredibly interesting. I would agree with that as well. This is where I see the intricacy and complexity of trust come into play and can definitely see those ramifications in both personal and technological trust. I would absolutely agree that placing more trust in our personal relationships would result in a higher quality of life. I think when we place more trust into our personal relationships, however, that usually there is a reciprocal response to that by the other person. In placing our trust in technology, I think we have to push for a reciprocal response in the way the companies use and share our data.

      I love the example of the New York Rangers and could not agree more about the importance of transparency. I think if companies were more transparent, issues of security would either be avoided or mitigated because they could be addressed from the onset. I think you draw on some important points about some values most humans share – transparency and trust – and I think companies should make sure to place stock and value into these and not only into security or data.

  5. Trust is key in a digital age, and smart companies are keeping that in mind as they offer new services. At the same time, value is also key. People are willing to part with a bit of their privacy/ data, as long as they feel that they are getting value for it in return. Great, thoughtful, post.

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