Dec 5, 2018
Great innovations emerge from startups constantly. We love to see intrepid entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life to drive progress.
However, there is a growing concern about what people are giving up to benefit from these new wonders. More and more, innovations today are made possible by your data. Your data! How can we balance a desire for innovation with our need for privacy?
The answer is likely we can trust some of them. It is certainly not reasonable to trust all startups.
You can not really trust all of … any group. That’s not what trust is. You do not award blanket trust to all school teachers, all cooks, all police officers, or all people in any circumstance. Trust is granted to someone who demonstrates they are trustworthy with certain responsibilities.
We grant trust to a teacher based on their reputation, our interactions and their performance. The ideal outcome is we can trust them to create a safe and productive learning environment for our kids. This does not mean we would necessarily trust them to land an airplane our kids are flying on.
Baroness Onora O’Neill, an expert philosopher on matters of trust, gave one of my all-time-favorite Ted talks. She says we need to first ask, “What are you asking me to trust you to do?” She continues by asking, “How can I validate whether I should trust you to do that thing?”
Today, the biggest thing many startups are asking to be trusted to do is keep your data safe and private.
We see how access to data can make compelling experiences possible. Whether it’s Uber using our location, Slack organizing our conversations, Siri hearing our voice, or Nest learning our household schedule — innovative products like these make our lives better.
My startup, Trove, is using communications data to build a smarter networking app. Trove finds patterns and key interactions in a user's online conversations and turns them into an insightful, searchable personal network. We aim to help our users understand their networks' full potential and make connections that matter. The possibilities created by harnessing artificial intelligence to help you communicate better are endless. To take advantage of this technology though, we must ask you to trust us with your data.
This is where things get harder. In his post, Trust is Overrated, Saul Kaplan says people are divided into four types when it comes to trust: Trust Until, Trust Still, Distrust Until, and Distrust Still.
The people in the Distrust Until category require their standard of trustworthiness to be met before they will trust you. This is a perfectly reasonable approach. Unfortunately, I have not found any commonly accepted system or standard to help people evaluate a startup’s trustworthiness.
As a result of this lapse in evaluation standards, people in both Distrust Until and Distrust Still categories simply do not trust anyone with their data. This is understandable but it also means they will miss out on many innovations. On the other end of the spectrum, people in both Trust Until and Trust Still do not carefully consider who deserves their trust in the first place. These people get to play with the latest tech, but may be taking unintentional risks by sharing their data blindly.
By creating a way for people to validate a startup’s trustworthiness, we will make people safer and open up more opportunities for innovation. If anyone knows of such a framework that is up-and-coming, please share it!
According to O’neill, our aim should not be to have more trust but rather to have “more trust in the trustworthy and not in the untrustworthy.” We must find a reliable way to help people evaluate the trustworthiness of startups.
Meanwhile, here is how we aim to earn User trust in Trove.