The World Economic Forum has released a set of complementary reports, including one written by an OII team, entitled ‘The Internet Trust Bubble: Global Values, Beliefs and Practices’, by William H. Dutton, Ginette Law, Gillian Bolsover, and Soumitra Dutta. Our report is a follow up to our earlier WEF study entitled ‘The New Internet World’. Both are based on global Web-based surveys of Internet users, and conducted by the OII in collaboration with the WEF, comScore, and with support from ictQATAR.

Our survey research was conducted in 2012, prior to the Snowden revelations, so what we found to be a potential risk to trust in the Internet can only be greater than what we found pre-Snowden. That said, there is no certainty that the concerns raised over Snowden will reach the general public, or that Internet users will not adapt to risks to personal data and surveillance in order to enjoy the convenience and other benefits of Internet use. There is clearly a need for continuing research on attitudes, beliefs, and practices in related areas of security, privacy, authenticity and trust in the Internet, but also greater efforts to support public awareness campaigns, such as is a current focus of work in our Global Cyber Security Capacity Center at the Oxford Martin School.

We found strong support for the values and attitudes underpinning freedom of expression on the Internet. Users in the emerging nations of the Internet world are in some respects more supportive of freedom of expression online than are users in the nations of the Old Internet World. In fact, in 2012, users from the nations more recently moving online, those who compose the New Internet World, are more likely to support norms underpinning freedom of expression online than do users from nations of the Old Internet World, who were early to adopt the Internet, as well as reporting higher levels of perceived freedom in expressing themselves on the Internet.

However, there is concern worldwide over the privacy of personal information, but this is not evenly distributed. Users in nations that have more recently embraced the Internet appeared somewhat less aware of the risks and more trusting in their use of the Internet. Moreover, many users around the world indicate that they are not taking measures designed to protect their privacy and security online. In addition, there is evidence of large proportions of the online world lacking trust in the authenticity and appropriateness of information on the Internet, often looking towards the government to address problems in ways that could put values of the Internet at risk, such as freedom of expression. At the same time, there is a surprisingly high proportion of users that take governmental monitoring and surveillance of the Internet for granted, even before the disclosures of Edward Snowden and his claims about US and other governmental surveillance initiatives. These are illustrations of a pattern of attitudes and beliefs that might well signal a looming crisis of trust in the freedom, privacy, security and value of the Internet as a global information and communication resource.

Building on the theme of trust, A. T. Kearney prepared a related WEF report, entitled ‘Rethinking Personal Data: A New Lens for Strengthening Trust’. In many respects, it moves forward to identify steps that could be taken to address growing concerns over trust in the Internet.

The third report was prepared by a team of researchers at Microsoft, who also build on issues of personal data and trust. All are part of the World Economic Forum’s multi-year ‘Rethinking Personal Data’ initiative.

Links to all three reports are below:

http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_InternetTrustBubble_Report2_2014.pdf   

http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_RethinkingPersonalData_TrustandContext_Report_2014.pdf

http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_RethinkingPersonalData_ANewLens_Report_2014.pdf

Coincidentally, I gave a keynote on the ‘Internet trust bubble’ in Shenzhen, China, at the Huawei Strategy and Technology Workshop today, with the release of this report, 13 May 2014. I am doubtful that our data convinced many in the audience that there was reason for concern, as most discussion was rather optimistic about the future of mobile and the Internet, but I do believe there is international recognition of


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About

William H. Dutton (B.A. University of Missouri; M.A., PhD. SUNYBuffalo, 1974) is Professor of Internet Studies, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and Fellow of Balliol College.