Trust is a relative term, open to a wide degree of interpretation. But any notion of trust usually is based on a number of underlying dimensions, including accountability, reliability, integrity, confidentiality and a fair exchange of value. At its core, trust is really about relationships, a way of describing how things interrelate and connect.  When trust is present, innovative possibilities emerge. Without it, systems break down.

A new World Economic Forum report, produced in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group, released today, Rethinking Personal Data: Strengthening Trust, explores how the use of personal data can unlock value for individuals, companies, governments and institutions of all types. The vital role of trust helps unlock this value.

On the flip side, a lack of trust in how personal data is currently being used can jeopardize the potential economic and social value it can create. In fact, given numerous, high-profile data security breaches, rampant identity theft, a general lack of transparency in how personal data is monetized and an absence of global policies for privacy, trust in the use of personal data is declining.

A number of steps, however, can be taken to strengthen trust within the personal data ecosystem. This includes:

  • Upgrading protection and security: Focusing on how to protect privacy and secure personal data against intentional and unintentional security breaches and misuse
  • Agreeing on rights and responsibilities for using data: Establishing consensus on rights, responsibilities, and permissions for the use of personal data in ways that recognize the importance of context and the need to balance the interests of multiple stakeholders
  • Driving accountability and enforcement: Holding organizations accountable for protecting and securing personal data and using it in accordance with the rights and established permissions for the trusted flow of data

Resolving these issues will not be easy, especially as a range of actors follow different cultural norms, timeframes for action and paths to potential solutions. Nonetheless, the borderless flow of personal data requires individuals, business leaders, and policy-makers to all coordinate in innovative ways to unlock long-term value. Critical to this will be developing ways to hold organizations accountable for securing data and strengthening the trust transparency and control of personal data by the individual.

The Rethinking Personal Data: Strengthening Trust report is a product of the World Economic Forum’s Rethinking Personal Data initiative, which brings together companies, public sector representatives, end user privacy and rights groups, academics and experts to deepen the collective understanding of how a principled, collaborative and balanced personal data ecosystem can enable greater transparency, resiliency and long-term economic growth. For more information visit,

William Hoffmann, Associate Director, Telecommunications Industry, World Economic Forum