A few words about trust

cropped-wst-logo-main[3 December update: Here is a video of the panel.]

So I was on a panel at WebScience@10 in London (@WebScienceTrust, #WebSci10), where the first question asked was, “What are two aspects of ‘trust and the Web’ that you think are most relevant/important at the moment?” My answer went something like this::::

1) The Net is young, and the Web with it.

Both were born in their current forms on 30 April 1995, when the NSFnet backed off on its forbidding commercial traffic on its pipes. This opened the whole Net to absolutely everything, exactly when the graphical Web browser became fully useful.

Twenty-one years in the history of a world is nothing. We’re still just getting started here.

2) The Internet, like nature, did not come with privacy. And privacy is personal. We need to start there.

We arrived naked in this new world, and — like Adam and Eve — still don’t have clothing and shelter.

The browser should have been a private tool in the first place, but it wasn’t; and it won’t be, so long as we leave improving it mostly up to companies with more interest in violating our privacy than providing it.

Just 21 years into this new world, we still need our own clothing, shelter, vehicles and private spaces. Browsers included. We will only get privacy if our tools provide it as a simple fact.

We also need to be the first parties, rather than the second ones, in our social and business agreements. In other words, others need to accept our terms, rather than vice versa. As first parties, we are independent. As second parties, we are dependent. Simple as that. Without independence, without agency, without the ability to initiate, without the ability to obtain agreement on our own terms, it’s all just more of the same old industrial model.

In the physical world, our independence earns respect, and that’s what we give to others as a matter of course. Without that respect, we don’t have civilization. This is why the Web we have today is still largely uncivilized.

We can only civilize the Net and the Web by inventing digital clothing and doors for people, and by providing standard agreements private individuals can assert in their dealings with others.

Inventing yet another wannabe unicorn to provide “privacy as a service” won’t do it. Nor will regulating the likes of Facebook and Google, or expecting them to become interested in building protections, when their businesses depend on the absence of those protections.

Fortunately, work has begun on personal privacy tools, and agreements we can each assert. And we can talk about those.




  1. Philip Sheldrake (@Sheldrake)’s avatar

    “Inventing yet another wannabe unicorn to provide privacy as a service won’t do it.”

    Privacy and decentralization and sovereign identities and self-sovereign technology are, in my opinion, inseparable. The only alternative – regulatory intervention, inevitably Balkanizing the network – is a very distant second best.

    Of course, this makes funding qualifying initiatives – such as the hi:project – rather tricky. Everyone benefits, but can you get everyone to pay to secure that societal ROI?

  2. Charles H. Green’s avatar

    I suspect the connection to trust is obvious to you, but it’s not to me, and you don’t make it explicit after the title. Might you do so?

  3. Chip’s avatar

    Emoji for “spot on”

  4. Robert Pye’s avatar

    I love this. Simple and it says it all. Become the “first party”. Have agency. Lovely to meet you yesterday Doc 😉 Cluetrain was and is timeless.

  5. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Charles, trust is a broad topic that was not narrowed down in advance. Were we to talk about trust as a thing in itself? About trust in others? In institutions? In ourselves? I didn’t know. And I don’t think the moderator wanted us to know—at least not before he ran the panel.

    So I decided to bring up two plain facts, rarely recognized or discussed, that provide contexts for many kinds of trust.

  6. Charles Green’s avatar


    Thanks for the contexting.

    You’re quite right, trust is a very broad subject, one I have been studying for nearly 20 years. What you describe indeed happens often; a questioner poses a broad question, with the implicit assumption that definitions are clear and mutually understood – which, of course, they are not.

    I understand the context now–a response to an open-ended question–and why you answered as you did.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.

  7. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thank you too, Charles. Good question, good follow.

    A video of the panel is now up.

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