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Digital Trust: What it means and how institutions can gain it

BY SJEANINE – MAY 3, 2021

In a time when data security breaches, cookie workarounds and advertising browser tracking take place every day, how much trust do you have in organizations to keep your information safe online? Moreover, how much trust do you have in institutions, like ASU, to do the same?

On April 22, digital trust and learner agency were the topic of discussion at ASU’s Innov8: A Speaker Series. The university’s Digital Trust leaders — Dr. Donna Kidwell, Chief Information Security and Digital Trust Officer; Kate Giovacchini, Director of Digital Trust Initiatives; and Dr. Timothy Summers, Director of Digital Trust Initiatives and the host of Innov8 — gathered with more than 85 people virtually for a highly interactive conversation about what digital trust means, what ASU is doing and where the team wants to go. 

From left to right: Timothy Summers, Donna Kidwell and Kate Giovacchini discussing Digital Trust at Innov8 on April 22, 2021

Kidwell described this Innov8 installment as an extension of her Data Privacy Day conversation in February 2021: “At ASU, technology is embedded across the campus, as most universities do,” said Kidwell. “But we also have an extraordinary commitment to more than 80,000 students this year in our ASU Online cohort. As we grow our digital footprint and expand, Digital Trust must be at the center of that.”

But wait…what is Digital Trust?

An industry-spanning term, ASU defines it as: Digital Trust (DT) centers on the confidence, flexibility and empowerment in the relationships between individuals and organizations when it comes to their data. At ASU,DT encompasses everything from cybersecurity to technology enablers like distributed ledger technologies and self sovereign identity.

And at the core of digital trust, is trust itself. “Digital is a modifier of the world ‘trust,’ and trust is really our experiences between people,” said Giovacchini. “Trust is an action we take to determine that someone is trustworthy; we make a decision to overcome uncertainty in order to meet some certain gain.”

Trust framework

When making a trust decision, how do we know who and how to trust? “To earn trust, we must pursue actions that deserve trust and make those actions visible to others,” said Giovacchini. When we are making a trust decision, we are trying to determine if the person/process/organization that we’re going to put our faith in, do they have the ability, the integrity and the benevolence to follow through to earn our trust.

Trust Framework

Now, let’s apply this framework to digital trust (the confidence, flexibility and empowerment in the relationships between individuals and organizations when it comes to your data). 

When considering who or what you should trust, ask yourself these questions:

Question 1: Do they have the ability?
In this instance, ability is defined more broadly as the competencies, skills, knowledge and expertise. Put the framework into action by asking yourself the following questions: 

  • Has this organization built a safe environment for all the data I’m giving? That they might create about me?
  • Do they have a robust security posture to protect my data from threats?

  • When I build or buy new tech, does it align with security, ethics and sustainability policies that I agree with?

Question 2: Do they have integrity?
Defined as the principles, ethics, oaths and character to be trusted, put the integrity portion of the framework into action by asking yourself the following questions: 

  • Do they do what you say they’re going to do?

  • Do their principles align with mine?

  • Does their idea of privacy align with my idea?

  • Do they adopt and follow through on a code of ethics that outlines their relationship with me? Do I agree with that code?

Question 3: Do they have benevolence?
Benevolence is an act of goodwill, good intentions and altruism. Put the framework into action by asking yourself the following questions: 

  • What are their goals and motives with my data?

  • What do they do with my data?

  • Can I see what data they have collected about me? Will they help me interpret it so I understand?

  • How do they create value with my data? Are they selling it, renting it or manipulating it?

How do institutions gain trust?

“Digital trust is harder than trust,” said Giovacchini. “At institutions, there are often so many people that it makes this trust paradigm more difficult to navigate.” So, what can they do? Feel empowered to reduce uncertainty and be clear about their ability, integrity and benevolence, she adds.

Paramount across this rapidly growing field is fostering communities of practice and education that prioritize ethics and individual agency. “We should design these digital experiences with an ethical underpinning, with a sense of what’s the right thing to do, as opposed to what can we do, and then keep the learners and our faculty in our community at the center of all of those decisions,” said Kidwell.

Kidwell went on to talk about topics in digital trust like vaccine passports, transparency paradox, end user legal agreements (EULAs), data retention and storage, sustainability in tech, privacy and public space cameras and chatbots. Watch the full conversation now!

Links from April's Innov8 discussion

By popular demand, here are some of the links that were shared in the chat during the April installment:

Visit Innov8: A Speaker Series to watch past installments and get the latest information on upcoming events.

Interested in shaping the future of Digital Trust with ASU? Register today for our virtual Digital Trust Summit on June 15-17, 2021.

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