Recently I led a Digital Trust Index project in Malaysia as a Fulbright specialist, creating a framework that includes measurement parameters, focus areas and stakeholder identification. This DTI will help the Malaysian government evaluate consumer trust in specific digital technologies and infrastructures. 

Trust and privacy are key in electronic commerce. Digital network breaches make consumers wary of what personal information is stored online. While the DTI is being developed specifically for Malaysia, I believe other countries could use this index, including here in the United States. 

New users, as well as experienced ones, choose whether to use an e-commerce website based on trust and the usefulness and ease of use consideration. New users, however, rely more on trust, whereas more experienced users rely more on perceived usefulness when making transaction decisions. 

Each dimension must be satisfied to establish consumer trust in a specific brand transaction. Businesses must address the following for success: 

• Security -- Protecting information against theft or unauthorized use.

• Privacy/data control -- Controlling who gains legal access to personal information, when they get access and what they can do with it.

• Benefit/value -- Offering reciprocal benefits that are directly relevant to the data that businesses are collecting and storing. This means that the data being collected are clearly necessary to providing the service.

• Accountability -- Taking responsibility for misuse and incorrect information and ensuring corrective action. 

Reputation capital also is important to figure out how you can aggregate, monitor and use your online reputation. Reputation is conceptualized as the currency that says that you can be trusted. Credibility, integrity and benevolence are the components that determine the reputation capital — defined as the sum of intentions, capabilities and values across communities and marketplaces. 

For example, the reputation index/capital will help an individual in an Airbnb or other peer-to-peer transaction. However this reputation capital is not transferable across different peer-to-peer networks. Even though I may be a good Airbnb host or guest, I may not be a good Task Monkeys job assigner or job taker. 

E-commerce and "mobile commerce" are moving from a primarily new and search products function to a product experience task, where buyers are mostly concerned about inferring product quality and characteristics. In this case, buyers' trust in sellers is focused on whether sellers faithfully describe product quality, and the vulnerability is primarily about product misrepresentation due to lack of seller integrity. Therefore, trust as related to product understanding and its underlying dimensions are likely to have a different role. 

In developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, many people lack credit or debit cards, bank accounts, driver's licenses, passports and other collateral that those living in developed countries use to identify themselves and conduct transactions. Yet, these same people own mobile phones and SIM cards. Because of this, phone companies in countries such as Malaysia increasingly act as intermediaries between consumers and service providers. 

Privacy is becoming more important with the rise of e-commerce, as these telecommunication companies collect, store and use the digital information of customers who may not have other resources. If they provide services similar to that of trusted internet providers, these companies might be used to improve e-commerce in developing nations, which could positively affect the national economy and global marketplace. 

E-commerce is here to stay, and businesses must stay current on the privacy and security of data assets to protect themselves and their customers' data from being compromised. 

Mahesh S. Raisinghani, Ph.D., a professor in the MBA program at Texas Woman's University, earned a Fulbright specialist grant to lead a Digital Trust Index project in Malaysia in December 2016. He can be reached at

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