Can we copy trust?

Ed Gerck edgerck at
Mon Jun 2 12:37:00 EDT 2008

In the essay "Better Than Free", Kevin Kelly debates which concepts hold 
value online, and how to monetize those values. See

Kelly's point can be very useful: *When copies are free, you need to 
sell things which can not be copied.*

The problem that I see and present to this list is when he discusses 
qualities that can't be copied and considers "trust" as something that 
cannot be copied.

Well, in the digital economy we had to learn how to copy trust and we 
did. For example, SSL would not work if trust could not be copied.

How do we copy trust? By recognizing that because trust cannot be 
communicated by self-assertions (*), trust cannot be copied by 
self-assertions either.

To trust something, you need to receive information from sources OTHER 
than the source you want to trust, and from as many other sources as 
necessary according to the extent of the trust you want. With more trust 
extent, you are more likely to need more independent sources of 

To copy trust, all you do is copy the information from those channels in 
a verifiable way and add that to the original channel information. We do 
this all the time in scientific work: we provide our findings, we 
provide the way to reproduce the findings, and we provide the published 
references that anyone can verify.

To copy trust in the digital economy, we provide  digital signatures 
from one or more third-parties that most people will trust.

This is how SSL works. The site provides a digital certificate signed by 
a CA that most browsers trust, providing an independent channel to 
verify that the web address is correct -- in addition to what the 
browser's location line says.

Ed Gerck

(*) "Trust as qualified reliance on information" in and
Digital Certificates: Applied Internet Security by J. Feghhi, J. Feghhi 
and P. Williams, Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-20-130980-7, 1998.

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