What’s Digital Trust & Why Does It Matter?

by Mr Calvin Chu,  SGTech Digital Trust Committee Executive Member and Managing Partner of Eden Strategy Institute, LLP



Trust has always been the foundational cornerstone of Singapore’s success. As the country transforms its economy and society to be increasingly digital, it is vital to uphold, build and foster trust in our online dealings and help position us as a global digital hub. However, this is easier said than done.

That’s because the level of trust in all sectors of society has collapsed. In many leading democracies, institutions are trusted by less than half of their citizens, according to the results of the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer that polls 36,000 respondents in 28 countries every year to determine trust levels.

Erosion of Trust

In Singapore, scams have led to erosion of trust according to multiple surveys published in the media. Online job scams, phishing scams, e-commerce scams, investment scams, impersonation scams, and loan scams almost doubled in H1 2022 year-on-year. Gaming addiction among children has risen from 40 to 60 per cent, while 33 per cent of people said they were aware of deep fakes, nonetheless, they may have inadvertently shared them on social media.

The paradox: Despite Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), growing investments in cybersecurity, and the shift towards “zero-trust architecture,” there remains a pressing need for companies to embed trust intentionally into all their digital transactions. But before that, how do we define digital trust?

Simply put, digital trust is the confidence that digital participants need to have to interact safely, securely, in a transparent, accountable and possibly frictionless manner. For citizens, this ensures that their online interactions are secure, private, transparent, accountable, and frictionless. For businesses, it demonstrates their competence and commitment to their stakeholders’ interests to facilitate more digital transactions. For governments, it fosters a thriving ecosystem where all stakeholders’ rights are safeguarded, and data exchange becomes seamless, so as to drive digital services and online trade.

SGTech commissioned the Eden Strategy Institute to conduct a global landscape study on digital trust. The Institute identified digital trust challenges such as misuse of data, misleading user interfaces or “dark patterns” that trick users into doing something they don’t want to, unclear or inconsistent standards and regulations across different jurisdictions in Asia, and a general lack of cyber-awareness among both citizens and businesses in Singapore.

Trust Ecosystem

How can organisations foster a climate of trust in transactions? Singapore has recently introduced several initiatives to grow the digital trust ecosystem, ranging from digital trust R&D centres and sandboxes to cybersecurity training and data governance frameworks. However, to boost digital trust in Singapore, the study has identified four enablers that should work in unison to reinforce each other:

  • Foster Digital Identity: Digital identity is a collection of validated digital attributes and credentials for the digital world. Computer systems use it to identify and verify a person, organisation, application, or device online. Digital identities allow access to services to be automated and make it possible for algorithms to authenticate credentials and mediate relationships. While SingPass has enjoyed strong adoption, expanding an initiative like this to enable transactions with private companies, even outside Singapore, could help boost economic activity across the region.

  • Enable Trust Technologies: Apart from cybersecurity measures, Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLTs), increasingly utilised for financial transactions, are less prone to cyberattacks and fraud because of their decentralised architecture. Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) minimise personal data collected and can mask or anonymise data. This would help manage and remotely audit the use of data, allowing companies to extract value from different datasets without compromising the privacy and security of the information. And finally, Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) technologies could help organisations align their IT and business objectives. Automated processes could be deployed to manage risk and meet regulatory compliance.

  • Boost Trust Standards: Many international standards and regulations are binary. Companies that have invested in developing their digital trust capabilities may prefer to deal with counterparties that have invested to comply with specific standards for their technological capabilities and data policies. This requires consultancy, certification, digital trust ratings, as well as harmonisation of policies, contract terms, trust marks, and dispute resolution mechanisms across countries.

  • Train Digital Trust Workforce: Singapore’s workforce will benefit from basic digital trust awareness training. Training can be embedded into education curricula by including basic digital trust literacy as a foundational module. There is already a 15,000-strong digital trust talent pool working across Singapore’s cybersecurity, trust technologies, digital identity, cyber insurance, law firms, and consulting companies currently. Formal skills pathways will expose them to multiple digital trust disciplines, such as data management, trust technologies and regulatory policy. Over time, certification can ensure baseline capability standards to safeguard the integrity of the digital trust ecosystem. Formal degree and diploma students majoring in various digital trust professional areas could become developers of future trust technologies as well. 

Organisations that deal with Singapore entities have always trusted us for our signature competence, consistency, and commitment. With concerted investments in enablers such as digital identity, trust technologies, trust standards, and a digital trust workforce, we could see innovative new solutions and service lines, more cross-border partnerships and increased trade, trusted and seamless online experiences, as well as high-quality jobs and value-add to our economy.

Mr Calvin Chu Yee Ming is an Exco Member of the SGTech Digital Trust Committee and Managing Partner of Eden Strategy Institute.


Pioneering Digital Trust

SGTech believes that there is an opportunity to position Singapore as a global node for digital and data, based on trust. 

Learn more or join our upcoming SGTech Global Future Series: Digital Trust Forum at https://bit.ly/digitaltrustforum.  

Published Sep 2022