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Can We Trust Our Devices?

As the saying goes, trust is earned, not given, and it seems the IoT (Internet of Things) space has some work to do, according to a recent report. The findings show newer technology developments in mobile—like AI (artificial intelligence)—are creating greater uncertainty and increasing mistrust among users. Candidly, I am not surprised by these results.

The Mobile Ecosystem Forum’s 8th annual Global Trust Report shows that rather than achieving the goal of increasing trust among mobile users, these new technologies are, at best, making no difference or are actively reducing trust. Only a small minority expressed positivity toward any of these new technologies.

A bit of background: the report explores the smartphone and digital services usage of 6,500 smartphone users across 10 countries including the United States. The objective is to consider the attitudes and trust levels in relation to personal information, privacy, identity, and how their data is handled by organizations.

The biggest takeaways suggest that despite incremental improvements, trust perceptions remain weak. Further, users continue to lack confidence that any actions they take make them safer. Only a quarter of the people who take protective measures feel a lot safer for having done so, and 52% feel a little safer, while 13% do not feel safer at all. What is more telling is that many people do not feel self-assured (15%) or empowered (15%) when it comes to their ability to properly use mobile apps and services safely.  Perhaps there is good reason for these fears. Cybersecurity threats and risks from phishing and other attacks at all-time high and there is no end in sight.

Still, users are turning to their mobile devices more than ever before, as the pandemic has reinforced the role of the mobile phone as a one-stop shop for entertainment, increased convenience, and a life management tool. Mobile apps are appreciated by 71% of users as convenient and easy to use.

At the same time, most users believe their mobile usage has increased, and the report shows increased penetration growth in functional activities such as food ordering and leisure pursuits like social media, music, gaming, and more. Even in our quality of care since COVID-19, we are seeing a surge in mobile apps on online usage. Going a step further, it’s no wonder our medical institutions are encouraging increased integrated virtual visits as a result of our reductions in medical staff and increased aging population.

Going back to the report, it illustrates most smartphone users have made mobile payments, typically by card for digital wallet, but as mobile payments grow, so do concerns around data theft and overspending. So, we don’t trust it, but we are still using it. It has become this necessary evil in our lives. It’s a dichotomy for sure.

The solution must be myriad. Regulation may be supporting improved perceptions of control and security of personal data, according to the findings. Significant improvements are observed in perceptions of personal data control and security, particularly in markets where regulation has come into force such as in South Africa, Brazil, and China.

We can’t talk about regulation without also talking about education: the two go hand-in-hand. We need to help users understand what tools they have at their disposal to increase security and privacy of their personal data.

Another interesting perspective is this report delves into the importance of targeting solutions specifically for social media, as there is a big opportunity for governance by governments, regulators, tool providers, and social media companies themselves to acknowledge this perception gap. There is a significant opportunity for all of us to pick up the mantel and help users remain protected. We live in very interesting times when it comes to moving the needle and protecting our devices, data and all the things in between.

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