Trust, U-Turns and Policy Change

by | Jan 5, 2021 | ICT4D |

trust, u-turns, and policy change

It’s been an interesting start to 2021 already and we’re not even in week two. Trust appears to be more rare everyday. At its most basic trust is a firm belief in someone or something that they or it will do what it says.

Here in the UK, schools were absolutely safe on Sunday, but by Monday evening they were transmission hotspots and closed. Not sure what happened in 24 hours.

In 2020, in many countries, there was much hype about various Track and Trace apps which were to help in reducing the spread of COVID. Some countries were able to achieve fairly good penetration rates. For example, Singapore’s TraceTogether system has around 40% penetration rate. This is partly due to the Singapore government making ‘wearable tokens’ mandatory for entry into various places. Every step of the way, Singaporeans were assured their privacy would be protected and their data would never be accessed unless the user tests positive and that the data would be deleted after 25 days. Now, police are allowed to access the TraceTogether data for criminal investigations…

While this is frustrating and sad, it is not surprising. When data governance is not taken seriously, we all lose. Digital surveillance is part of our lives already. Just ask Google and Amazon. It is not new. And in many situations we are ok with it, however, it’s surprises we don’t like. It’s the disappearance of trust we don’t like.

This happens too with policy or terms & conditions changes. Sometimes digital companies send you a notification, other times they don’t or it’s buried in an ‘update’. Often these are minor changes and improvements. However, sometimes they are major with significant implications for the user. Sometimes they are “We said we would behave in this way so you would sign up, now we’re going to behave differently because it’s better for our bottom line.”

Beverley Hatcher-Mbu articulates this extremely well in her twitter thread about Whatsapp’s recent privacy policy change. Whatsapp grew in popularity before it was bought by Facebook due to the fact it encrypted messages meaning they could not be intercepted and read by third parties. While this continues, the policy change means all kinds of other data about you will be collected including data to figure out your location, who you are talking with, and so on. Plus all this data will be shared with Facebook and used in all kinds of ways. Oh and you have agree to opt out of any future class action lawsuits.

Oh and if you don’t agree to the new terms, you can’t use the app, the software, or in this case Whatsapp. This is a false ‘choice’. As Beverley says, ‘For the estimated 2 billion What’s App users for whom the app is their main form of communication, business, leisure, community, do you seriously think people will “just opt out”? Of course not.’

Government, organisation, and company policies change. They must. How they change can either build or erode trust. Unfortunately most of the choices being made today erode an already fragile trust.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Photo by Ozark Drones


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