The Internet paradox: we want and are suspicious of technology

The internet has created one of the greatest modern-day paradoxes: we use technology more and more; so much so that it has become a necessity that borders in many cases on an addiction. At the same time we are increasingly suspicious of it.

The Internet was built on trust in order to share information and knowledge. However, this landscape is changing rapidly. Fake news plagued 2017 and the attempts by the media and governments to use social networks to manipulate public opinion has made us view any updates with suspicion (for example, Russia was able to influence America's 2016 election campaign via Facebook, Google and Twitter. We also have to contend with false profiles, cyber attacks and individuals with clearly antisocial behaviour.

The paradox of the new digital landscape: Need vs. trust

The Digital Planet 2017 survey How Competitiveness and Trust in Digital Economies Vary Across the World was carried out in 42 countries and revealed that this paradox of a simultaneous need for and suspicion of the Internet is a global phenomenon.

However, behavioural changes vary by region. In parts of the world with small digital economies where technology use is still growing rapidly, users trust the digital environment more. In mature digital markets such as Europe, North America, Japan and South Korea, users are less trusting, particularly of sites that lack transparency, have long loading times or that involve complex purchasing processes.

The democratisation of technology (better connections and cheaper devices) means that we are using the Internet with increasing regularity. We can now easily check our bank balance, emails and breaking news on our mobiles over breakfast. Our use of technology is becoming more intense. This is not just due to necessity, but because it is easy, convenient and quick.

The role of companies with respect to digital trust

As use of the Internet grows, so will digital suspicion. It must be taken into account that approximately half of the world's population is not currently online. However, Cisco forecasts that 58% will be by 2021 and that monthly traffic volumes per user will grow by 150% from 2016 to 2021.

With growing Internet use and increasing suspicion, it is clear that companies can gain a competitive edge by winning the trust of their users.

Relations between companies and internet users have passed through a phase of depersonalisation in which the user was seen as a product; a data set that could be stored, analysed and even sold to third parties.

This is demonstrated by the PatientsLikeMe case in the United States, where patients who shared experiences on the website became aware that their data was being compiled and sold to third parties, which was technically legal in accordance with the site's small print, but ethically dubious. Legal protection did not prevent the site from losing the trust of its users, who felt that they needed to protect their data and privacy.

Users are learning to be concerned about their personal data as a result of these types of actions due to the fact that they are being targeted by cybercriminals and because cyber attacks are becoming more frequent and having more serious consequences.

Therefore, corporate digital strategies must prioritise rebuilding digital trust among users (if they have not done so already).

Sources: ICAR, Scientific American, Digital Planet