After Watching The Social Dilemma, I Wonder: Can We Commoditize Trust?
In cyber, nothing is trusted. That’s the assumption: all things are bad until they aren’t.
If you haven’t watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix yet, I encourage you to spend 90 minutes and watch. Include the older kids. You may need to pause it at times to discuss the point. It’s worthy of a discussion. As a life-long Silicon Valley marketer, it struck a nerve.
I’ve worked in cybersecurity for years. I am the marketing person who turns an engineer’s wild ideas into plain English so ordinary people can understand what they are doing and why they’re doing it. While it can be hopelessly dull, cybersecurity is vital. And working to keep democracy safe — at least that’s how I decided to see it — was a mission I could get behind.
But the challenge that cybersecurity solutions battle is knowing what to trust. Not knowing what to trust was in play before this new Administration started “fake news.” Stephen Colbert (watch video) hit this hard in 2005 with truthiness: the quality of seeming to be true according to one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic, factual evidence.¹ Yep, it’s been a decades’ long struggle for Americans as truth (and trust) has been traded away for profit and power.
But what if trust was a commodity? What if we could buy it?
I started pushing this idea in my last cyber job. While engineers focus on technical solutions to problems, marketers turn to persuasion and messaging. My job often required my ability to straddle the product constraints (“oh, sure, that feature is on our punch list”), and the pain the customers were experiencing with messages that would make the customers feel better while providing air cover for engineering.²
I realized trust could be a competitive advantage. It’s something that can distinguish one company from another and could lead to increased revenue. I did some research for Awake Security, and respondents said they’d be willing to pay more for a service that would guarantee trust, and they’d be more likely to recommend a trustworthy service to a friend.
Here’s how that might work: you need to choose a financial service provider. Let’s say a bank or a stock trading company or a credit card. You’ve heard about stolen personal data from almost everywhere, and you’ve had your identity stolen before. It sucked. So this time, you’re doing your homework.
After reading about all the breaches, you feel doomed, helpless. But then, you realize Bank of Trust is promising that your information will not be breached. In fact, they’ve adopted something like the LifeLock guarantee: “Reimbursement and Expense Compensation, each with limits of up to $1 million for Ultimate Plus, up to $100,000 for Advantage and up to $25,000 for Select, when purchased in Norton 360 with LifeLock plans. And up to $1 million for coverage for lawyers and experts if needed, for all plans.”
Is it perfect? No. But can it move the needle? Maybe.
I know that perfection doesn’t exist. There will always be breaches because the incentive is significant for criminals. But my focus is on changing the business model. Today, companies “do the math” on breaches and calculate the risk based on dollars and cents. The Bitglass 2019 Financial Breach Report found that the average breach cost per record in financial services was $210 (it is only exceeded by the cost of a healthcare record breach, $429 each). Businesses calculate the potential price of the risk, buy insurance because it’s cheaper than solving the problem, and here we are.³
Instead, if trust was tied to profit for an organization and not loss, it would start to be prioritized. Initiatives within the company would align with that priority. Imagine — a cross-functional commitment to providing a trustworthy service! Across the company, folks would be motivated to further the value, coming up with ideas and ways to be ever-more trusted.
This all brings me back to The Social Dilemma.
The big question the documentary asks is, are we willing to change our behavior to change the algorithm? Right now, as consumers, we are clicking our way to a propaganda-based world where trust is not part of the equation. I could barely scroll through my Facebook feed this morning without seeing precisely what the documentary asserts: we live in echo chambers that reinforce our beliefs. We are awash in truthiness.
It’s time to try and flip the model. We consumers can take individual action, but we need role models, and that’s why corporate America matters. If there’s a business incentive for focusing on trust, imagine how that could change the trust landscape. I’m not suggesting this would be easy or cheap. But it is possible.
It starts with a few key ingredients: awareness, intention, leadership, and commitment to doing the right thing.
² Don’t want to minimize the role of all the other vital functions in all this. From customer service to product to QA to sales, there are many folks dedicated to delivering quality services. But I think they’d all admit; we’re often moving as fast as we can to please customers and investors.
³ This sounds hopelessly cynical; I don’t intend to be. There are many, many companies who take cybersecurity seriously. Alas, we often heard from a Chief Information Technology Officer that making the investment case for cybersecurity is difficult and often, not a shared value by other C-Suite execs or board members.