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It is critical that before leaping to use the word trust to describe technical systems we have to unpack its meaning.

The decision to write on this topic solidified when I was traveling from my home in San Leandro California in a Sikh Ashram to the European Identity Conference in Munich. On that journey I encountered two different uses of the word “trust”. The first instance was a sticker on the back of a car I saw parked outside as I was leaving. The first instance “The Sexiest Thing is Trust” a quote from a Toni Amos song on a bumper sticker is referring to interpersonal human to human trust.

The second instance on a advertisement in the Zurich airport "Trust. Five extremely demanding letters." is talking about trust in organizational systems and processes. It is an advertisement for PICTET “Founded in Geneva in 1805…one of the leading independent wealth and asset managers in Europe”

One is about deeply human feelings and connection within human relationships the other is about an institutions ability to support individuals hoarding wealth for themselves.

The Range of Meanings:

I looked up the word trustiness in the Free Dictionary

trustiness: the trait of deserving trust and confidence


It highlights different types of trustworthiness

creditworthiness: trustworthiness with money as based on a person's credit history; a general qualification for borrowing

responsibility, responsibleness: a form of trustworthiness; the trait of being answerable to someone for something or being responsible for one's conduct

fault: responsibility for a bad situation or event

accountability, answerability, answerableness: responsibility to someone or for some activity dependability, dependableness, reliability, reliableness. the quality of being dependable or reliable

Type of: trait: a distinguishing feature of your personal nature

The thesaurus has a whole list of words with with a range of meanings…I am including the whole list because it highlights the key point ….that this word means many things.…The ones at the top in bold were identified as the most common.

  • decision

  • determination

  • faith

  • honor

  • integrity

  • love

  • loyalty

  • principle

  • resolution

  • stability

  • dependability

  • perseverance

  • steadfastness

  • steadiness

  • trustworthiness

  • truthfulness

  • adherence

  • allegiance

  • ardor

  • attachment

  • certainty

  • devotedness

  • devotion

  • doggedness

  • eagerness

  • earnestness

  • endurance

  • fealty

  • fidelity

  • firmness

  • honesty

  • permanence

  • regularity

  • staunchness

  • surety

  • tenacity

  • unchangeableness

  • uniformity

  • zeal

  • abidingness

  • unfailingness

Antonyms for trustiness

  • doubt

  • hate

  • lying

  • uncertainty

  • weakness

  • change

  • apathy

  • discrace

  • dishonesty

  • dishonor

  • disinterest

  • dislike

  • disloyalty

  • enmity

  • hatred

  • hesitation

  • indecision

  • indefiniteness

  • indifference

  • instability

  • irresolution

  • treachery

  • unsteadiness

  • vacillation

  • wavering

  • changeableness

  • fluctuation

  • inconstancy

  • irregularity

it is essential that the type of quality of trust we want or are aiming for in these systems is discussed explicitly and that we not overburden the word with “all” of its meanings. If we start to unpack its meanings then we may conclude that we can not actually use the word.

Are we looking for adherence or honesty in the system when we use the word trust to describe it? They are really quite different. The section below on Connection and Vulnerability will highlight the difference.

##Trust and Truth

Dr. Emillio Mordini spoke at the European Identity Conference last week. His talk specifically examined the meaning of trust and how it is used in the technological world.

Here is an excerpt from the abstract of his talk In a Wilderness of Mirrors: Do we still need Trust in the Online World?

Dictionaries define "trust" as 1) assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; 2) dependence on something future or contingent, hope. The notion of "trust" implies two concurrent concepts. The English term "trust" originate from Old English treowian "to believe, trust," which comes from Proto-Germanic *treuwaz- "characterized by good faith, honest". Interestingly enough, this is the same root of "truth". So, on the one hand, trust is related to truth. One is honest because he tells the truth. One trusts that something is true, but also one trusts because something is true.

On the other hand, there is a parallel notion of trust, which comes from Latin and Ancient Greek languages, and it is still present in English with the word "faith", which today means 1) fidelity; 2) firm belief in something for which there is no proof. Faith comes Latin fides, which meant trust, faith, confidence, reliance, credence, belief. Fides came in turn from an Indo-European root -bheidh*, which was connected to animal sacrifices made for ratifying an agreement (with other people or with gods). What was the meaning of animal sacrifices on a solemn oath, or a contractual promise? That symbolic gesture meant, "Who will ever fail to keep his promise, he will suffer the same fate of this animal". Trust is thus the penalty for breaking a contract and, consequently, what bolsters a contract.

By definition, trust occurs when an individual is confident of the result of an action, and the occurrence of good or bad results is contingent on the behavior of another agent that could be a person, a machine, a process or a system. Trust is thus always a gamble on the future. Today an important aspect of trust relates to the trustworthiness of collective infrastructures and technology. In other words in the Information Society it is no longer possible to distinguish between the trust in technology systems per se and the trust in our fellow citizens with whom we communicate and (trans)act using those systems. When we take a plane, go to a restaurant, shop with a credit card, drive a car, etc., we entrust our goods and life not only in our fellow humans, but also, and to a wider and wider extent, in technology. People do not "trust" (or have no confidence in) technology alone. People "trust" (or distrust) the social and political structure of which technology is a part.

He went on to talk about how the emergence of blockchain / DLT technologies are part of a global wave of mistrust in institutional bodies of all types. The resulting effort to resist global elites ironically enough ends up supporting a globalization with ONE ‘global’ currency and ONE global ID.

Trust is a critical act in these systems and one must trust in the integrity of the mathematical formula and that the majority of the nodes not controlled by one actor or bad actors/dishonest people.

He highlighted the irony that those who want to eliminate trust end up increasing the need for trust.

We don’t know the future but we need to plan for the future. We don't know to what extent our perceptions are true. We don’t even know to what extent memories of the past are faithful but we need to believe them to use them to make predictions about the future. We actually re-invent our stories (both individually and collectively) a native about the present based the past.


That means Trust is probabilistic - and it is it is ultimately a human emotion.

##Trust, Fear, Blame and Vulnerability.

Brené Brown is s a researcher story teller who’s work focuses on shame and vulnerability. She invites her audience at a speak that she gives at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce)

Who or What should I be afraid of / fearful of? Who or What is to blame?

I wonder are these questions the ones really driving the desire by those leading this effort to create a “web of trust”?

I hear often people talking about the need for reputation systems - to judge and label people based on their actions - is this so others will know to be afraid of interacting with them? Are we just seeking to create systems to assign blame when transactions/interactions don’t go well?

Brené believes that these questions underly our whole culture and its scarcity that we never have enough. We armor up - to go out in the world to kick ass and not let anyone see who I am. Judgment, criticism, blame, ridicule. We do things like focus on perfectionism. Will a “web of trust” with strong/good reputation systems actually just feed this negative cultural trend?

She says that we armor up to protect our hearts but in doing so we block out the ability to really connect, to be vulnerable to open up and trust. That Love and Belonging are irreducible needs of men women and children and in their absence there is always suffering. Our capacity for wholeheartedness can never be greater then our willingness to be broken hearted. Vulnerability is the path to love, belonging, joy, intimacy, trust, innovation, creativity, empathy.

Empathy is feeling with people. Understand perspective and stay out of judgement. Empathy is a sacred space. Where as Sympathy is “I’m feeling for you”.

BLAME is simple it looks to find who’s fault is it.

So…with the focus on reputation which is just a code word for judgement - are we just going to increase the already high levels of fear and blame in the society/culture?

I think this was at the heart of the questions I wrote up during the first Web of Trust event

  • What do webs of "trust" do when trust begins to fray/is broken? What is the role of emotional literacy & resilience?

  • Are we actually creating a web of shame? What is the role of reckoning and forgiveness?

These two questions became the basis of a group to work on a paper. The proceeded to fail to actually engage with the above questions. It ended up writing a paper about re-branding the web of trust that I withdrew as an author from. It actually went off in a direction towards creating what I think could be considered webs of shame with ideas I could not get behind.

Blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain (discharging anger) and has an inverse relationship with accountability. People who blame seldom have the tenacity and grit to hold people accountable. Accountability is a vulnerable process.

Do we want an accountable web?
A human web of connection? A web of empathy? of vulnerability?

The tools we are envisioning, and hopefully creating are part of socio-technical systems. We need to ask critical questions about their socio-emotional impact.

##Why does this matter?

Shame arises quiet quickly in people and comes from judgements people hear/receive that make them feel they are bad. It is at an epidemic proportion in the society and correlated with addiction, depression, aggression, violence, suicide, bullying.

Shame sends the message “You are bad” and received as “I am bad” and if we link repetitional systems to the identity of individuals it sends them the message that they are bad. Guilt is a focus on behavior and that one did something bad - if we don’t build systems to foster conflict resolution, reckoning with behavior when it is bad and a re-building of connection to heal interactions/transactions that went badly instead of “shaming” individuals.

I think we can build a web of accountability, connection, empathy and vulnerability - without thinking about these things I think we build a web of shame and it will have great social cost.

These are the four qualities of empathy: Perspective taking Staying out of judgement Recognizing emotion in other people and communicating that.

It is feeling WITH people however in order to connect with you - I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling. How is this fostered in what we are calling a web of trust? - if it is not fostered I beleive we won't succeed in our goal of connecting people adn the world.

##Trust and Collaboration

If real trust requires vulnerability - baking in systems to “ding” people’s reputation makes fear the underlying emotional reality of the system.

There is all this effort to build these decentralized, distributed systems so we can 'trust then' and trust each other because we can't trust centralized authorities or registries (at least this is the narrative I hear a lot and was a thread through out the gathering).

" Trust is to a collaboration-based social order what fear is to an authority-based social order. Trust, then, is the glue that binds everyone together in a large-scale society or organization" - Miki Kashtan

If you want a truly collaboration based social order and you don't want an "authority based" one then imagining that the FEAR of a bad reputation will be the successful underpinning of this web of trust is a fallacy.

We have to get clearer on what we what and what time of social mechanics happen within the system and if these are good / what we want.

##Inclusiveness and the Whole

Just who do we think is in this movement/effort and what does it encompass? Are you seeking to build a system that has the "trust" and confidence of most of the world's population because it was not in the room at rebooting the web of trust and will likely be at this ID2020 design workshop. This sort of presumption that the current demographic mix represents the world and the people will join us if we just build it frames are dangerous.

I continue to be very worried that calling what is seeking to be built a “web of trust” it is packing TO MUCH into a word that doesn't for normal people mean what is identifiers + crypto and the ability to strong authentication and encrypted messages... maybe some new functionality - but to say "trust" for what is cryptographically good but not socially meaningful is I believe the wrong approach to success.

We can't really build claim that TRUST as a human feeling that bonds people and at scale links society together is communicated and "contained" within crypto systems for identity.

I went to find all the papers I could written by Emilio Mordini. One that really stood out and I read this morning on the way to the airport was No Identification without Representation: Constraints on the Use of Biometric Identification Systems.

It discusses the need for reciprocity in identity systems.

If A identifies B, A should also be identified to B. This is a sort of exchange of information, but it ground only a week symmetry since no specifics as to the balance of information are implied. A may demand more from B more - or at any rate different - information that A divulges.

In insisting that the relational structure of identification be understood as reciprocal - I.e. that it involve symmetry adequate to context; that it involve the bestowal upon or acknowledgment of, rights of the identified individual; and that it be transparent - we are, in effect, insisting that identification be tightly bound to recognition of rights. If A may legitimately demand idenfirying data of B, A must acknowledge the rights of B. A owes something to B, which Be may legitimately demand.

To summarize my contribution to the workshop how these systems are designed, who is involved, how the social-emotional-technical aspect are thoughtfully considered is as important as the underlying identity and cryptography aspects.

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