Ethics of Trust­-Inviting Digital Systems

Blockchain, Reputation­-Based Platforms, and COVID­19 Tracing Technologies

More Info


In the past decade, rapid shifting and evolving technological systems that take trust as part of the design objective (call such systems “trust-inviting systems”) have incredibly transformed the way we interact with others. Think of reputation-based platforms mediating interactions between strangers and other digital services provided by institutions, as well as blockchain systems, which work to shape, respectively, our trust relations with individuals, institutions, and technologies. However, the ways these systems use to facilitate trust are not always justifiable and can lead to negative moral and social consequences if certain parts of the systems are shown to be flawed. By reflecting on several present cases of trust-inviting systems that are experiencing great tension of trust, this thesis argues that trust-inviting systems essentially attempt to interpret, translate, and ultimately institutionalize the idea of trustworthiness in given contexts. However, the ways that trust-inviting systems are using to institutionalize the characteristics of trustworthy persons, institutions, and technologies should not be accepted without scrutiny. For each case analysed here, a discrepancy between the intention to improve trust and trustworthiness and the means that are adopted to facilitate them is shown. Such cleavage is argued to be primarily caused by flawed understanding of the trust concepts and the resulting ill-suited design choices, as well as problems emerged from the implementation process. These issues are proposed to be ameliorated by a recalibration of the understanding of the trust concepts, which has the potential for remedying shortcomings of the current design and development of the systems with forward-looking strategies taking into account a wide range of societal needs, values, and technical properties. In a word, it is argued that trust-inviting digital systems should be designed, developed, and deployed in ways that are aligned with the essence of the trust relation in context, in order to achieve proper trust and trustworthy systems. As such, the pitfalls identified in each case are able to be used as perspectives contributing to building affordances that foster warranted trust and foreclosing affordances that would undermine warranted trust.