If we can increase our confidence in the skills and reliability of those we connect with online, powerful new possibilities will open up. It has the potential to reshape business, education and society.
But is it reasonable to even hope that this will happen? The Web has been around for about two decades, and, though eBay, dating sites and social networks have workarounds, the problem isn’t solved. I still need to (nervously) provide the validation of my credit card number in most important cases. In one instance, I had to send a photocopy of my driver’s license. Is there a new technology or approach on the horizon? Here are a few options that might become important:
Telepresence – The closer online comes to offline, the more confidence it will instill in users. When we can see the full person, including facial expressions and body language, the experience will approach face-to-face. Provided there are not bandwidth lags or automated means for cleaning an image (of indicators) or impersonation, this could become a powerful means to trust.
Lie detection – Many people are becoming aware of the tics and tells that reveal dishonesty. These include involuntary micro-expressions, change in voice tone or cadence, and the ways narratives are expressed. Professionals are trained in lie detection methods, and video/computer analysis can make this training more effective. While no perfect method exists – nothing good enough to be as definitive as a DNA test in court – this might provide a means to dramatically better assurance for online activities.
Social networks – Just as we vouch for one another in real life, this can happen in the online world. I’ve already seen this with my LinkedIn page, where my connections with people who know me well have been essential to establishing new business contacts. Right now, this is done is a rather casual way, but participation in different networks, and all the comments, acceptances and visible conversations that come with it, might be automatically scored and become a confidence indicator.
Profiles – In the background, anyone with a significant level of online participation is having data captured, analyzed, combined and classified to create profiles for commerce (and, perhaps, for governments). This is all happening away from our view and presumably not used (or, at least, not widely used) for trust assurance. I suspect that will change in the future. Like the involuntary micro-expressions, such profiles will be difficult to manipulate, and we may find an insurance business providing ratings of people we meet online. These ratings would probably be tied to specific activities (contract work, performance in online courses, marriage) and backed up by payouts if the ratings turn out to be wrong.
Biometrics – For any of the above, a villain highjacking an identity makes all the trust built up moot. We need to know that the person on the other end is who he/she says he/she is. Logging in is not sufficient. Biometrics (fingerprint, retinal scan, face recognition) is likely to be a required element of any trust assurance system.
The methods above, probably in combination, could be powerful enough to create big change even though, as I said in the first post on this subject, no automated trust system will be perfect. I’ll add that I expect there to be unintended consequences.
We have already seen jobs that were local go global, and trust assurance systems would exacerbate that. If a system is highly based on social networks and opinions, some people might be effectively shut out as cliques form (and get accentuated by cycles of self-supporting comments). Credentials built via a trust assurance system are likely to be fragmented, based more directly on interests and needs, without a broader context. And, of course, it will be more difficult to escape our past lives. Our unwise comments, associations and behaviors may become impossible to get away from.