Trust is the lifeblood of the Internet and central to everything that is done here. In order for the current 3.5 billion users to continue using the Internet and its services, and for the next billion users to connect to the Internet, trust is required. The importance of trust is seen even more in Africa where, though there is a high growth of Internet users, the e-commerce uptake rate is very low. Users are very reluctant to carry out financial transactions over the Internet because of fear of being attacked by cyber criminals. Surprisingly though, many of these very users who are afraid to transact over the Internet choose to trust it with their privacy. They share everything about their lives on social media platforms. Such trust in social media could arguably be due to users lack of understanding of the concept of privacy especially since for most of them, their privacy is already being violated offline by their state governments. But the blind trust of social media is not only an African thing, studies show that users worldwide do not understand the data trade-off or are unaware of the implicationsof using social media platforms for free.

This is why policymakers and Internet optimists should be very worried when violations like the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal occur, where 30 million personality profiles, constructed from 50 million Facebook users’ data were sold to politicians to influence political elections. Big data and commercial profiling have enabled predatory targeting and unprecedented commercial discrimination. If users understood that data collected about them, of something as simple as a Facebook post about a car breakdown or a late bill payment post, could be used to determine their creditworthiness to access loans, for example, they would be very concerned. Not knowing what data is being collected about you and what it is being used for, is a concern and users find this creepy. Laws that encourage transparency in data collection and use, which gives control of the data to users will significantly improve users’ trust.

How the Internet evolves from here on, its economic and social impact, and its ability to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), depends on users trusting the Internet and its services. The end-to-end, permissionless nature of the Internet allows for and promotes innovation, but there will be no one using the innovative services if there exists no trust of the infrastructure over which the services are delivered. It seems obvious that the next billion Internet users will be from emerging regions like Africa because, though the Internet appears ubiquitous in North America and Europe, it isn’t the case in other regions like Africa. It will, therefore, take more than just innovation and investment in infrastructure to bring the next billion of users onboard. Users not yet connected will need to be convinced that it is indeed safe to carry out financial transactions on the Internet, that they can trust service providers and platforms on the Internet with their data. Because as a survey carried out by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) concludes, lack of trust is a top reason for not purchasing good or services online.


N.B: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official  position of the African Academic Network on Internet Policy. 

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