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Can I trust you?

Eline N. Lincklaen Arriens

Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and do not represent the views of the Support Centre for Data Sharing or the European Commission.

What does it mean to trust? Trust in itself can be defined as having confidence, faith, or hope in someone or something, such as trusting that the sun will rise in the morning1. But how do you come to trust that someone or something? Through observation? Because someone you respect said so? Or because you never had a reason to doubt it? And before even knowing that you trust someone or something, how do decide that you can trust them, especially with your personal information?

In regard to trusting someone, it feels like a no brainer. Sharing information about yourself can come as second nature in a conversation, depending on your familiarity and connection with the other person. The question of how much we trust our family, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, is entirely dependent on our relationship with them and how we feel in a given moment. The closer you are, the more you trust and share. It is common sense that you are more likely to share information about yourself with your boy-/girlfriend or best friend than you are with a stranger or a colleague. This is not a strict rule, but when conversing with someone there is a feeling of control in what information you are sharing and how it can be used and distributed.

However, when it comes to sharing personal information with something, the answer is far more complex. In the start of the digital era, computers, the internet, and our phones were becoming an integral part of our daily life. Users were happy to trust the devices (and by extension the businesses behind them) with their sensitive personal information such as their name, address, age, gender, as well as health and financial data for quick convenience. For example, at a café or airport, most people were, and still are, willing to share their data without a second thought for free WiFi2or by accepting the terms and conditions for an application on your phone in a blink of an eye without reading the fine print3.

Now, this is starting to change – people are becoming more aware of the implications of sharing their personal data with ‘trusted’ parties in favour of protecting their privacy. People are installing adblockers, using VPNs, and are refusing to ‘consent’ to certain terms of agreements4, even for free WiFi. However, this change in perception is not universal and may be a bit hypocritical. An international survey found that even though 63% of respondents found connected devices “creepy” and 75% don’t trust the way their data is being shared, approximately 70% of the participants stated that they owned one or more of these devices, including smart home appliances, fitness monitors, and gaming consoles like Alexa, Amazon’s Echo speakers, and Furbo’s pet camera/treat dispenser5.

So, even with this change in level of trust and increase in valuing privacy, people continue to buy and use devices that collect and use their personal data. This highlights the question posed earlier, how do we decide what we can trust with our personal information? Or from another angle, does it matter if we trust someone or something as long as it is more convenient for us? As stated, even with an increase in demand for additional security and privacy measures, people continue to buy and download the latest gadgets and applications to make their lives easier with (semi-)full awareness that tech companies are collecting, analysing, and are likely sharing their data for profit.

So, I pose the question: to what extent would you trade your personal information for convenience, and what would change your mind?