The past decade has witnessed several high-profile data breaches, privacy scandals, and misinformation, which have further eroded trust in digital systems and have led to increased regulatory scrutiny and calls for greater transparency and accountability from technology companies. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU and the Nigeria Data Privacy Regulation are examples of regulations that have been implemented to increase the protection of personal data.
The loss of digital trust suggests that many people are worried about the role technology currently plays in their lives. This is happening at a time when millions of people around the world have shifted to online learning, telemedicine, remote work, and e-commerce to counter the restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of digital trust can have significant consequences for businesses and individuals. Businesses may lose customers, suffer damage to reputation, legal and regulatory consequences, loss of intellectual property, decrease in employee productivity, difficulty in acquiring new partners, and difficulty in raising funds. At the same time, individuals may be at a higher risk of identity theft and other types of fraud. It is said in the industry that if the lifeblood of the digital economy is data, its heart is digital trust. What is digital trust, you may want to ask?
According to ISACA, digital trust is defined as the confidence in the integrity of the relationships, interactions, and transactions among providers and consumers within an associated digital ecosystem. This includes the ability of people, organizations, processes, information, and technology to create and maintain a trustworthy digital world." In other words, digital trust is the confidence individuals, organizations, and societies have in the digital systems, technologies, and platforms that underpin their daily lives. It encompasses a range of issues, comprising data privacy, security, reliability, and transparency.
Key Metrics of Digital Trust
There are metrics organizations can use to assess the overall level of digital trust as well as to identify areas where trust may be lacking. By monitoring these metrics and taking necessary steps to address any issues, organizations can help to build and maintain digital trust with their customers and other stakeholders. Below are key metrics that can be used to measure digital trust:
- Security: This consists of measures such as the number of data breaches, the types of data that were exposed, and the severity of the breaches.
- Privacy: This measure involves elements such as the types of personal information that are collected and shared, the transparency of data-handling practices, and the effectiveness of data protection.
- Reliability: This metric captures attributes such as the uptime and availability of digital systems, the accuracy and completeness of information, and the consistency of performance.
- User Experience: Examples of user experience measures include ease of use, user satisfaction, and the ability of users to control their interactions with digital systems.
- Transparency and predictability: This metric addresses attributes such as the level of information provided about digital systems, the accessibility of data, the ability of users to understand how digital systems work, the ability to extract meaningful insights and make scientific forecasts to foresee business risks and support planning.
- Compliance: Compliance measures have adherence to laws, regulations, and industry standards related to data protection, privacy, and security.
- Reputation: This comprises measures such as public perception, brand loyalty, and overall reputation of the company or the digital system.
The Digital Trust Ecosystems Framework
There is a framework developed by ISACA called the Digital Trust Ecosystems Framework that can help organizations understand, establish, and manage the various factors that contribute to digital trust. It provides a holistic approach to building and maintaining digital trust by considering the various stakeholders, processes and technology involved. It can be adapted to different industries and organizations of different sizes. The framework has four key areas:
- Governance: This area consists of the policies, procedures, and governance structures that organizations can implement to ensure that digital trust is effectively managed.
- People: These are the roles and responsibilities of individuals within the organization, as well as the skills and knowledge required to manage digital trust effectively.
- Processes: This section contains the processes and procedures that organizations use to manage digital trust, such as risk management, incident management, and compliance.
- Technology: This framework area has the technologies and systems such as encryption, secure authentication, and intrusion detection and prevention systems that organizations use to support digital trust.
The framework also includes a five-step maturity model, which organizations can use to assess and improve their digital trust maturity level. These steps include:
- Assess: Identify the digital trust risks and opportunities for the organization
- Plan: Develop a strategic plan to address digital trust risks and opportunities
- Implement: Implement the plan and the necessary controls to mitigate digital trust risks
- Monitor: Continuously monitor the digital trust ecosystem to detect and respond to any changes
- Improve: Continuously improve the digital trust ecosystem to adapt to new risks and opportunities
Practical Steps to Restoring Digital Trust
Digital trust is a crucial aspect for any organization in today's digital age. With the increasing reliance on digital systems and the growing concern over data privacy, organizations need to establish and maintain digital trust with their customers, employees, and other stakeholders. However, with the rise of data breaches, privacy scandals and misinformation, restoring digital trust can be a challenging task. To restore digital trust, organizations can implement the following strategies:
- Security: This is a fundamental aspect of restoring digital trust. Organizations should prioritize security by implementing robust security measures, such as encryption, secure authentication, and intrusion detection and prevention systems. They should proactively carry out periodic Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Tests (VAPT) on their digital environment. They should also have a comprehensive incident response plan implemented to respond to security breaches quickly and effectively. This will show customers that the organization is taking necessary actions to protect their personal information. Organizations should also provide regular security updates and alerts, in the form of threat intelligence, to customers to keep them informed about potential security threats.
- Effective communication: Organizations should communicate effectively with their customers and other stakeholders, providing clear and accurate information about digital systems and responding promptly to any concerns or questions. As a result, trust is built when customers are aware that the organization is transparent, responsive, and cares about their customers' concerns. Organizations should also be proactive in addressing potential concerns as well as explaining any changes to their digital systems or data handling practices to stakeholders.
- Compliance: Compliance with relevant laws, regulations, and industry standards related to data protection, privacy, and security are crucial for restoring digital trust. Organizations should ensure that they are compliant with all applicable laws and regulations and that they are following industry best practices for data protection and privacy. In Nigeria, an example of laws and regulations are NDPR, Cybercrime Act 2015, etc. This helps to build trust by showing customers that the organization is taking steps to protect their personal information and that they are following the law. Organizations should also conduct regular audits to ensure that they follow all relevant laws and regulations. Professional and legal counsel should be sought where and when necessary.
- Culture of Trust: Fostering a culture of trust within the organization is also crucial for restoring digital trust. Ethical behaviour, transparency, accountability, employee training and education should be encouraged and promoted throughout the organization. With this, trust is built because customers will know that the organization is committed to protecting personal information and that important steps are taken to ensure that employees understand and follow data protection and privacy policies. Also, organizations should establish a clear governance structure to manage digital trust, including a dedicated team responsible for data protection, privacy and cybersecurity awareness.
- Continuous Monitoring and Improvement: Organizations should continuously monitor and improve their digital trust ecosystem. Assessing digital trust risks and opportunities, developing a strategic plan, implementing controls, monitoring the digital trust ecosystem, and adapting to new risks and opportunities are ways of monitoring and improving the digital trust ecosystem. Hence, customers will understand that the organization is committed to protecting personal information and that they are taking steps to ensure that digital systems are safe and secure which will lead to building trust.
Restoring digital trust is a complex task that requires a comprehensive strategy and commitment from the entire organization. By being transparent, communicating effectively, prioritizing security, ensuring compliance, fostering a culture of trust, and continuously monitoring and improving their digital trust ecosystem, organizations can restore trust with their customers and other stakeholders, resulting in increased revenue, customers and partnerships, redeemed reputation, employee productivity and many more. The ISACA Digital Trust Ecosystems Framework is a great tool to use to assess and improve an organization's digital trust maturity level. Engaging professionals to advise and guide you on restoring digital trust in your organization cannot be overemphasized, as they bring along their wealth of knowledge and experience. As the digital landscape is constantly evolving, it is vital for organizations to stay informed and adapt their strategy accordingly.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.