What is trust?

This question either comes up explicitly in discussions of privacy and identity, or lurks unspoken beneath the surface. We talk a lot about online trust, and only occasionally does someone stop and ask if we’ve defined just what it is that we’re talking about.

Some people reply, at that point, that trying to define trust is a rat-hole/red herring/exercise in yak-shaving, but I am less pessimistic. Here’s a simple definition of trust which I think is flexible enough to serve as a basis for productive discussion, while still covering the essentials. Of course, if you disagree, I’d welcome comments!

“Trust is the belief that someone else will act in your interests, even if they have the opportunity and the motivation to do otherwise.”

It’s a belief, and like any belief, it may be well- or ill-founded. You may be mistaken or misinformed, or the other party may be deceiving you.

As I say, it’s not necessarily a perfect definition, but it has worked for me so far.

Any thoughts?

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2 thoughts on “What is trust?

  1. Toby Stevens says:

    The definition there is good – I wrote a paper several years back in which I attempted to define the key characteristics of trust:
    – Expectation: the anticipation of what will be provided by each party as part of the trust relationship, which is in turn based upon empirical experience and perception;
    – Risk: the degree of vulnerability, and potential associated impact on either party arising from a breach of faith by the other;
    – Reliability: the ability of each party to fulfil its trust obligation, both within the trust relationship and in other previous or concurrent relationships;
    – Transparency: the openness of each party with the other, thus providing assurance of no ulterior motives or hidden intent.

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