A label for digital responsibility: The Digital Trust Label

With the ever-increasing importance of digital applications and a growing awareness of digital risks, the issue of digital responsibility is coming into focus. Expectations towards companies in the area of corporate digital responsibility are increasing. Users want less complexity and more transparency and opportunities to learn more about digital applications. The principle of a label can also be part of the solution in the digital world.

After about two years of development, the Geneva-based foundation Swiss Digital Initiative (SDI) has launched the world’s first Digital Trust Label thanks to the support of various partners and with the involvement of various stakeholders. With the label, SDI offers a possible instrument to promote digital responsibility and trust. There is hardly an area of life that is not significantly influenced by digital applications. From news consumption to the world of work to interaction with government authorities: we encounter digital applications everywhere, all the more so since the digitalisation surge caused by the pandemic. As usage increases, we are becoming more aware of the risks associated with digital applications and the ethical issues that lie behind even seemingly innocuous applications. From almost daily reported incidents of data theft or misuse, to the realisation that certain applications raise problematic issues, for example discrimination.

From the Organic Food Label to the Digital Trust Label for Apps

But where there is already help in other areas of life, e.g. energy saving labels or organic food labels, users are left alone in the digital world. If information is available via digital applications, it is in such abundance and density that it is rarely read and understood. Who can claim to read the terms and conditions and data protection declarations to the end every time?

The Digital Trust Label provides a remedy. It shows at a glance whether a digital application meets the necessary criteria in the areas of security, data protection, reliability and fair user interaction. For example, the criteria of the fourth dimension create more transparency with regard to artificial intelligence and its manifestations, such as automated decision-making mechanisms that can be particularly problematic from an ethical point of view, e.g. the allocation of school children to schools or decisions about creditworthiness.

How can organisations prepare for digital responsibility?

The starting position for organisations is not easy: On the one hand, one wants to use new technical possibilities in competition. On the other hand, in a rapidly changing regulatory environment, there is a lack of guidance and incentives as well as the tools for practical implementation. Meanwhile, client demands and regulatory density are increasing, especially in Europe. To respond to these developments, two main approaches are being taken in the digital economy.

On the one hand, there has been a proliferation of declarations, manifestos and commitments to principles. Providers can, for example, sign a charter and thus send the signal that they adhere to certain principles, which in turn should reassure regulators and users. A second approach is aggressive self-promotion, emphasising certain aspects of digital responsibility, e.g. operating data centres only with renewable energy or strongly valuing privacy, as Apple has been doing for some time.

The label as a tool: Digital Responsibility confirmed by a neutral body Both approaches have their problems, however. With voluntary commitments, the implementation of the commitments made often falls by the wayside. People are satisfied with having signed a declaration, but there is hardly ever any verification. Self-promotion also lacks credibility, as outsiders must continue to believe that the provider in question is doing the right thing, but without being able to verify this well. A label issued by an external, neutral body not only helps to put theoretical principles into practice, but also increases the credibility of the commitment to digital responsbility. The credibility of the Digital Trust Label is based on various factors. The label is not only based on comprehensive studies, workshops and discussions, but was also developed in a multi-stakeholder approach that allowed for the involvement of various actors from civil society to companies. The criteria of the label catalogue are based on various international standards and scientific expertise, especially from EPFL. An expert committee ensures continuous development, including open feedback processes. Finally, independent financing and clear governance of the label ensure credibility. The label does not serve to finance the foundation, and care is taken to ensure a balanced representation of different stakeholder groups in all relevant bodies.

Companies need a Digital Responsibility Strategy

The question of responsible use of digital technologies – digital responsibility – and trust in digitalisation cannot be solved by labels alone. While corporate sustainability has been receiving greater attention for years, the issue of corporate digital responsibility is still in its infancy. A recently published study by ethos showed that only a few companies are actively working on this topic. And even these achieve rather low values in terms of quality and scope. It is difficult for organisations to credibly put the often abstract principles into practice.

In another project, the Swiss Digital Initiative, in cooperation with IMD Lausanne, is identifying best practices to promote the spread of corporate digital responsibility. Increased education and training as well as more transparency and awareness are needed. With the Digital Trust Label, the Swiss Digital Initiative has embarked on a first pillar on the path to more digital responsibility. Valuable insights have already been gained through the development process, which are linked below together with a comprehensive Digital Trust Whitepaper. Even though the label is now live, the project will continue. The Swiss Digital Initiative will continuously evaluate and further develop the catalogue of criteria and the processes surrounding the label.

Video about how it works

Further information

The contact person for the label is Sarah Gädig, Senior Project & Operations Manager. Further documents:

Partner of the Digital Trust Label

Creative Commons Licence

AUTHOR: Nicolas Zahn

Nicolas Zahn works as a Senior Project Manager at the Swiss Digital Initiative. Previously, he worked as a business consultant in the IT industry and gained international experience on the topic of digitalisation at think tanks and international organisations. He has been working on the political and social impact of digital technologies for a long time and is politically active and involved in various associations on this topic.

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