We do it all the time, inputting our precious data into a website we’ve never heard of. I noticed recently that when signing into a website with Google, it tells you to “Be sure you trust this app”. But how can you trust an app you’ve never logged into? We make such decisions without thinking any of them through. WHY should I trust this app? Why should I trust Google? Why should I even trust Apple with the Mac I’m using? How important is trust in today’s data economy?
The short answer is that you can’t fully trust these entities. Giving up your private data in exchange for software tools that we need to operate our daily lives is now the norm. We don’t even give it a second thought. For all the repercussions that could happen to our digital lives, it’s remarkable to me that we never notice any of these potential threats. I would argue that most companies are good with the data we provide or are at least too busy or cash-strapped to devote any effort toward exploiting it. But still, if they wanted to use it, they would, at our expense. And worse yet, we likely wouldn’t even know it’s happening.
Sometimes it isn’t the company itself that will use your data inappropriately, it’s hackers that gain access thanks to poor security measures or bad data management. Years ago I signed up for an email newsletter, a seemingly safe thing to do, but little did I know that I had just opened myself up to waves of email scams down the road. I signed up for Ledger’s email list, a crypto hardware company that ironically makes devices for safeguarding your digital assets. They were hacked in 2021, and hundreds of thousands of emails were leaked to the black market. Now, nearly three times a day, I get phishing messages cleverly disguised as normal-looking emails from Amazon or Google. These spoofed emails are chocked full of links that if clicked, would drain my crypto wallet, download a virus on my computer, or worse, for all I know. Clicking that “Sign up” button on that one website years ago, diseased my inbox like lifelong digital herpes.
The crypto industry promised trust through blockchain technology, by way of public transaction records and public source code for smart contracts (amongst other buzzwords and sales pitches). And while a blockchain might be “secure”, the crypto industry has proven over the course of 2022 that we consumers should not have blindly trusted anyone in the industry. It feels like every day there’s another hack or exchange collapsing, all at the expense of you and me, the end users. We blindly trusted the websites and software they were using, and are now the ones feeling the worst of the pain. Even FTX, the “too big to fail” crypto exchange, advertised during the 2022 Superbowl as the “Safe and easy way to get into crypto”. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that FTX crashed and burned after using customer funds to invest in volatile, illiquid crypto projects. FTX, amongst other crypto companies, clearly never deserved our trust in the first place.
Maybe it's time to rethink trust in software, and time for companies to own up to how they are exploiting us. In a perfect world, every company would do right by the customer, respecting our data and our boundaries. I don’t foresee this future, greed and power are too strong of a human desire for that to ever be the case. At the end of the day, it’s on us, as the consumer, to do our due diligence and make sure we trust the tech we use, or at least be at peace being exploited by it. Next time, before you sign in with Google, or deposit money into that trendy new FinTech app, take a second, think about what you are doing, and make sure you are ok with this seemingly innocent digital handshake.