The Internet trust revolution


This is the first of two posts discussing “trust”. I’ve split them in two because the first is about society and the second about technology. The second post will be available tomorrow.

The UK news has been dominated for the last week or so by horsemeat that has been found in pre-processed minced beef products such as beef burgers, meatballs and bolognaise sauce. Half of the readership of this blog are from outside the UK, so let me explain that eating horsemeat in the UK is uncommon mainly because (I think) horses are seen as a respected species rather than part of our diet.

What started off as cheap supermarket branded beef burgers has now spread to well-known brands, which has kept the story in the news for a while.

Some people have asked me whether this is “real news” and aren’t there more important things to cover at the moment. I think that the reason why this has stayed in the news for so long is because there are elements of society that we, the public, have to simply “trust”.

We have to trust our MPs to be fine upstanding citizens, so when they abuse this trust, such as the MPs’ expenses scandal two years’ ago, they must be put in the spotlight.

As a rule, the general public is trusted – this is one of the reasons there can be a smaller ratio of police to citizens.

Most of the things we do in our lives, we have to apply a level of implicit trust… leaving the kids at school; not putting video cameras up all over our houses; leaving employees to go about their business without supervision; driving around with our doors unlocked and so on.

Another thing we trust is that when we buy food, we trust the labelling. Whether it’s in a restaurant, butcher or supermarket, we have to trust that the product we are buying is what it says it is on the label or the menu. So when this basic level of trust (and let’s face it, labelling meat should be really, really basic), it’s fair that there should be high degree of publicity about this abuse of trust.

Trust is becoming more important on the Internet. We have spent 15 years on the internet of moving to a position where we, consumers, can trust a website if it has a secure certificate. It gives us comfort that the company we are giving our home address and payment information to, is who they say they are.

I’ll discuss more about trust on the Internet tomorrow.

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