Our Relationship With the Internet: Trust Is the Big Concern in 2016

Opinion

There is no denying we all have a relationship with the Internet. It used to be just a data source, now it is a companion as we go to sleep at night. It informs, entertains, and excites us. And it engages, disappoints, and saddens us.

Internet experts and visionaries say 2016 will get even more interesting—with the evolution of the Internet of Things, immersive artificial reality, artificial intelligence, and all kinds of other technology advances that will enable better speed, connectivity, and access.

But what do Internet users themselves want?

When more than 100,000 Americans were recently asked this question as part of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) Onward, Internet project, the most common response by far was that they wanted the Internet to be more “trustworthy.” It was the choice of more than 52 percent of respondents. This is not altogether surprising considering trust takes so many forms, including integrity, reliability, and accountability.

The results also make sense given that cyber breaches occur almost every day, significant cybersecurity legislation was just enacted by Congress, and Americans are now storing their entire lives online. Trust is also about information reliability and where that information comes from (e.g. bloggers, crowdsourcing, wikis, and other publicly fueled resources). When asked if they trust the answers the Internet provides, 32 percent of Americans said they did not. The most dubious were Californians and those from New Jersey, both of which had 36 percent say they didn’t trust it. Montanans were the least skeptical, with less than a quarter, 22.7 percent, saying they didn’t trust Internet content.

In its many forms, trust is clearly an incredibly important theme for anyone involved with the Internet in 2016. As in life itself, there are few, if any, traits more important than being trustworthy. It will be interesting to see the implications of trust when we all start interacting more with robots. Will we trust them more, or less, than humans?

NCTA - Data Infographic2

The research also showed that Americans want the Internet to be more intelligent (13 percent), independent (8 percent), and inspiring (8 percent)—although 38 percent gave it credit for sparking inspiration. “Intelligent” can mean things such as more long-form deeply researched writing vs. short click-hungry snippets, better personalization, ease of finding what we need, and the overall quality of information that we find on the Internet (e.g. medical advice, weather reports). “Independent” can mean free from censorship by regimes and editors. It may also refer to our ability to easily gather information without having to make a million clicks and provide our email address to every source we want to view. “Inspiring” can be things that entice us to be more creative and also more purposeful.

At the bottom of the list of what Americans want more of from the Internet were the terms supportive (6 percent), serious (5 percent), approachable (5 percent), and provocative (3 percent). In others words, people care least about these traits or believe the Internet meets their needs in these areas already.

There is an enormous pool of Onward, Internet data, which anyone can download for free, that can be evaluated by demographics such as U.S. region, gender, and age. The data is a resource for developers, corporations, journalists, academics, and students to enable more advanced Internet technologies in 2016 that reflect the real needs of American Internet users.

The research is ongoing, and people can take the brief survey online at any time. It will be interesting to see if the next major milestone has different results or if trust will remain our biggest wish as a nation for years to come.

Brian Dietz has served as Vice President of Communications & Digital Strategy for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), based in Washington, D.C., since January 2003. The cable industry is the nation's largest broadband provider of high-speed Internet access. Follow @

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