Digital trust and safety

The way we look at the world, our biases and beliefs, can be primarily traced to who we listen to and believe, who we trust. With much of our connections and information happening online, digital trust has become a critical factor for people and our society.

Digital trust is the reliance on the integrity of the technology, systems, platforms, providers and people involved in online interactions.  The level of digital trust is a measure of the confidence of meeting security, privacy and ethical integrity expectations.

Not all digital trust relationships are the same. If you’re posting anonymously on some small internet backwater, the need for trust is low. However, you might be dealing with highly sensitive financial, health or corporate data where a breach of trust could lead to serious real-world consequences.

In general, the more sensitive and impactful the data is, the more it needs protecting. If the data involves Personally Identifiable Information (PII) there are often strict rules around safeguarding the information, such as the EU’s GDPR. Even if PII rules don’t apply, organizations have strong interests in delivering effective digital trust to maintain their reputation and demonstrate legitimacy.

The question is, how can organizations effectively build and maintain digital trust in a complex, ever-changing global setting?

Trust and safety initiatives

The digital milieu has numerous risks, from ancient ones that have adapted to new technologies to ones that were never before possible. Fraudsters, hackers, trolls, spammers and other bad actors use altered or fake news, identities, profiles, sites and other techniques to lie, manipulate and otherwise take advantage of their targets.

Countering these unsavory actions is difficult. As Ralph Echemendia, “The Ethical Hacker,” points out:

The law is always years behind the criminals. The technologies are always behind the criminals[...] Then you come into regulatory, compliance, and governments, and all their involvement. By the time it gets there, the truth is, we’re addressing issues that are maybe five to ten years old, as far as regulations and compliance is concerned.

The imperative is on organizations to protect themselves – and their audiences. The resulting growth of trust and safety professionals and teams is a clear indication that defined programs to protect digital spaces are well underway and will continue to gain importance.

Trust and safety are organizational programs to protect their customers and their organizations’ reputations as fair and safe places to transact or interact. Depending on the nature of the entity, the trust and safety team will perform various checks on people and activities to protect users, such as onboarding, monitoring and user and content moderation. Their roles might be in their own department, or under teams such as risk, compliance or fraud prevention.

As an emerging field, trust and safety teams have to deal with many new situations, often quickly and at scale. While every organization is different, some commonalities and considerations unite the field and can act as a way to drive progress on solutions for these complicated scenarios.

Digital Trust & Safety Partnership

On February 18, 2021, leading technology companies formally launched the Digital Trust & Safety Partnership, an initiative promoting a safer and more trustworthy internet. The Partnership includes Discord, Google, LinkedIn, Meta, Microsoft, Patreon, Pinterest, Reddit, Shopify, Twitter and Vimeo. They state, “We are committed to developing, using and promoting industry best practices, reviewed through internal and independent third-party assessments, to ensure consumer trust and safety when using digital services.”

They agree on five fundamental commitments a digital service should make to promote a safer and more trustworthy internet:

  1. Identify, evaluate and adjust for content and conduct-related risks in product development.
  2. Adopt explainable processes for product governance, including which team is responsible for creating rules and evolving rules.
  3. Conduct enforcement operations to implement product governance.
  4. Assess and improve processes associated with content and conduct-related risks.
  5. Ensure that relevant trust and safety policies are published to the public, and report periodically to the public and other stakeholders regarding actions taken.

They have come up with 35 best practices for trust and safety that cover product development, governance, enforcement, improvement and transparency. These best practices are intended to help reduce the harms associated with online interactions while also protecting people’s ability to participate in the numerous opportunities the online world offers.

The Partnership has also created The Safe Framework: Tailoring a Proportionate Approach to Assessing Digital Trust & Safety, which guides organizations on assessing their trust and safety initiatives. These initial assessments can help develop a robust framework for third-party trust and safety assessments and inform the global conversation on how to build trust online.

Proposing a risk-based approach to trust and safety, “the Safe Framework will bring rigor and consistency to assessment processes, while also providing flexibility across the diverse products and services our members provide.” As there are so many different organizations, use-cases and people online, having a risk-based approach to digital trust holds significant promise to build a better internet.

At Trulioo, we align with this approach. Our mission of trust, privacy and inclusion points to a world where people can interact and transact, form communities, build connections and learn, grow and prosper online.

We see the technologies to make an internet of trust starting to take shape. But to truly achieve the tremendous opportunity the digital world offers, there’s the need for checks and balances on all the risks that threaten progress. The Safe Framework is a strong starting point that can guide creating more effective trust and safety programs and help build digital trust.