In this paper, we use trust as an interpretive lens through which we consider a set of challenges that remain crucial across decades and socio-technical phases of Internet development. Looking through this particular lens highlights several specific factors, which have persisted throughout the history of the Internet and are amplified in today’s environment: identity, privacy, and collective online social action. We examine these factors in a diachronic perspective, comparing attitudes dominant in the 1990s with the attitudes dominant today. We argue that the socio-technical environment of the Internet has become so complex that our established ways and resources for making trust decisions are no longer adequate. In such circumstances, trust decisions increasingly become a collaborative effort between the user and a set of outside institutional actors. Yet, assisting users in navigating the progressively complex web of online interactions with human and nonhuman actors can easily turn into a detrimental level of institutional control, with “unsupervised users” perceived as potential victims of untrustworthy Internet sources. Trust thus becomes one of the key driving forces of Internet development and regulation, significantly redefining the relationships between individuals and institutions, and further destabilizing aspects of Internet trust analyzed in this paper.
- Collective social action