I recently listened to a lecture by Gillian Tett from the FT, a lot of which focused on trust. One of the startling things she pointed out was that while trust in politics, media and banking has gone down, trust in tech companies and our social peers has gone up.
Trust online is an interesting question. We’re comfortable with shopping via the web, but as we come to other kinds of transactions we’re still a little uncertain.
I’ve rented out a room in my flat via Airbnb for about 6 months. Lots of people have asked if I’ve had weirdos stay (no), and what stops people stealing my stuff while I’m out. My mum asked if I was worried about the Brighton Strangler coming to stay, which Google tells me is a reference to a film released in 1945 (IMDb). The film is set in East London, which might explain the reference, but as yet he hasn’t come round.
It does make sense that letting people who are basically strangers live in your home might turn out to be a problem, but so far it hasn’t been at all. There is a backstop in case of a disaster, Airbnb realise they have to sort you out if it goes wrong and have good insurance. But this only works if violations of trust aren’t common place.
I like to think the main reason it works is because most people are basically good. But the Airbnb community does a lot to enforce good behavior, including very thorough and practically mandatory reviews by both guests and hosts. It also lets you link Facebook and Twitter to your profile – I can see the number of Facebook friends a guest has, which lends a level of assurance that it’s not a false identity. They can see mine too.
While we’ve still got the wild west of anonymous YouTube comments and the like, on Airbnb and other similar sites (Task Rabbit is one I’m interested in), it seems that people can be relied upon to behave with nearly as much responsibility as they do in the real world.
Whatever the case, compared with other sectors tech companies are seen as trustworthy – and I guess trust in Airbnb and trust in the people using it are completely intertwined. The chart below comes from the Edelman trust survey.
As well as trusting tech companies, we also seem to trust what we hear from our peers. Perhaps we are moving towards a less hierarchical approach to who we trust.