Who Do You Trust?

That’s an intriguing question.

It applies to personal relationships and business matters alike. I suspect the recent slippage in mainstream media readership has been a function of a loss of trust.

This question has repercussions for other corporate relationships you may have, too.

Consider: Apple (AAPL) can get away with a snafu like the iPhone pricing issue, because it has earned the trust, even the adoration, of its users. Could you imagine having that trust with Microsoft (MSFT)?

Dell used to have that trust, but frittered it away, as they moved from one of the best to much worse customer service in the PC space. AOL also — they’ve decayed, become a garbage service for the clueless. (AIM remains mostly worthwhile).

Google (GOOG) has earned my confidence, and — so far — has not given me any reason to reconsider that trust.

Yahoo (YHOO) still has some residual trust — but its waning fast. I still use Yahoo as a home page, but their inattentiveness to some of their properties is shameful. They have a very, very brief period to right the ship, or their long horrific slide into irrelevancy will be irreversible. Yahoo has frittered away so many good properties, I find it embarrassing. (WhoTF is advising them?)

I run across an inordinate amount of spam in anything Yahoo related (think Hotmail, circa 2001). My office IM is Trillian, and I come in each morning to at least one, often more, Yahoo IM spams. (WTF? Can’t you stop that?) Lots of blog comment spam is via a Yahoo email address. And what was once a grand experiment in investor democracy — the message boards — decayed into a haven for spammers, scammers, or worse. Shameful wastage. This should have been aggressively attacked 5 years ago.

Then there’s the run of existing companies that seem to become rather careless with their clients data

Which leads me to this morning’s topic: Trusting new companies with your personal data.

Some time ago, I explained in painful detail Why I Don’t Do Social Networking Sites. The short version is, I don’t trust these companies with my data. And I don’t trust that their VC backers or a judge at any bankruptcy hearing to treat my personal data the way they would want their 16 year old daughters to be treated. 

The latest reminder of this involves Scoble and Facebook. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, Scoble is a nice enough fellow who I refused to read back when he was working as Microsoft’s Leni Riefenstahl. I know too much about the evil empire to acquiesce to a warm fuzzy face being placed on them.

Anyway, for scraping his own freakin’ data off their site, Scoble’s account was erased. A big brouhaha erupted, and after some ring kissing and genuflecting, he was readmitted.

Which brings me back to our topic today, that of Trust.

I am naturally skeptical. I see too much bullshit everywhere. Hence, I believe Trust is something that must be earned, not given away. Not demanded, not assumed, but actually earned. Especially if you are a startup company, with enormous access to lots and lots of very personal data. These firms should have to earn your confidence. They have gotten carte blanche so far, but I suspect the era of blind faith is coming to an end.

Ask yourself these questions: Who do I trust? Who can I rely on, confide in, bank on, have faith in? 

Who do you read? Who do you let get inside your head? Who do you believe? Who are you sure about? 

What companies do you entrust with your personal files and passwords? Your social security number, bank account data, personal financial info, data?

Who do you trust?

And, who trusts you back . . .?

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  1. cinefoz commented on Jan 5

    Nearly everyone lies, except when dealing in the abstract. Everyone promises to be fair and just, until they see someone who has something the want. Then it becomes a game of screw your buddy.

    I developed the concept of an honesty trap and used it on occasion. Simply put, you create a situation where the other person benefits if fair dealing is achieved. If the other person tries to screw me over, it becomes a case of “I’m rubber, you’re glue. It bounces of me and sticks to you.”

    Amazingly, some people still tried to pull a fast one. In one case, a person paid, I’m sure, huge legal bills in trying to set up a situation where they wanted to take advantage of me. I was in a ‘yes / no’ position regarding their offer and the situation was one where neither could walk away. Eventually we agreed to a win-win situation after their lawyer ran up a lot of hours.

    People are, by nature, liars, thieves, and fast buck con artists. Even my former preacher lost interest in me after I made it clear I would not subsidize his need to be Santa year round.

    You just noticed this?

  2. m3 commented on Jan 5

    in terms of finance/money, i only trust gold.

    in terms of readings & economic theory, common sense investors who came of age prior to EMH & MPT. (rothbard, mises, buffett, rogers, gartman, etc.)

    i sound like some old crazy gold bug (which i am NOT; i hate gold & i am not voting for ron paul) but these guys are the only ones that seem to have gotten things right over the last few. everyone else has been flat wrong.

    i agree that too many institutions have been destroying that bond of trust for too long. it’s a result of a society that equates honesty with being a sucker.

  3. me commented on Jan 5

    “The short version is, I don’t trust these companies with my data.”

    I never understood why people would go for online backups or online apps. My data stays on my drive.

    Who do I trust? or trust but verify?

    I trust Amazon. I have had issues with some of their partners and Amazon has always made good.

    I read as much as I can and try to sort it out for myself by looking at the (pardon the pun) big picture. I do skip right wing propaganda like Fox or Murdock.

    I used to trust the WSJ news but I really am skeptical with Murdock owning in now.

    The Financial Times and BBC are also other sources I like.

    And of course that “skeptical as ‘me'” – BR.

  4. cinefoz commented on Jan 5

    Oh yeah, Cinefoz is not on my birth certificate or any other record outside of the world of anonymous internet postings. However, the email address is real, sort of. It is a disposable alias. Sorry, I only trust you a little. Nice blog, though.

  5. babygal commented on Jan 5

    I trust my husband. And my sister. No one else. But you gotta pay the bills, so some of them see my stuff.

    News-I read em all and figure it out myself.

  6. dan in michigan commented on Jan 5

    Listen to this! I took my daughter to the ski slope and rented a snowboard for her. They wanted to hold my driver’s license and visa card until I returned the snowboard. Then the rental agreement wanted my social security number! I explained to the pierced goth/stoner kid that there was no way I would give him all that information so call the supervisor. I was the only person there that objected. Everyone else gave them all the information. P.S. I had my identity stolen a couple years ago and it was a nightmare. I finally got it sorted out and a supervisor at vendor I was dealing with told me to never, ever, give anyone my driver’s license number. He said anyone can get your SSN, so that’s no big deal.

  7. John Furrier commented on Jan 5

    great post-referred from Dr Paul K. Whom I’ve never met but he earned my trust through his blog.

    Trust concerns are valid in this new environment of transparency and free speech. Who do you trust is key because some sites are getting ratings by lying and other by PR stunts.


    BR: Dr. Paul K ?

    Is that Krugman — or Kedrosky ?

  8. Winston Munn commented on Jan 5

    Well, I guess I must trust the “full faith and credit” of the U.S. government because I keep taking I.O.U.s as compensation for work performed – the same kind of trust one would have in the Godfather when he makes an offer that “can’t be refused.”

  9. MAS (Seattle) commented on Jan 5

    Larry Kudlow and Jim Cramer.

    Oh the question was who DO you trust.

  10. The Financial Philosopher commented on Jan 5

    Any person or entity that has money in their heart and not in their head loses my faith; however, that level of scrutiny is difficult to achieve; therefore, “trust” can be considered an “investment.” In that regard, it all boils down to managing risk. Every person or entity should be trusted to a certain degree and we increase risk as we increase our trust in that person or entity. Another parallel with investing is that “real risk” increases as “perceived risk” declines… That’s why we can get “burned” when we blindly trust the wrong person or entity…

  11. Winston Munn commented on Jan 5


    January 5, 2008
    Washington, D.C.


    In a surprise announcement from the White House today, a spokesperson indicated the President Bush has decided to address the nation’s economic cocnerms by adding the words really, really to his speech Monday.

    Instead of the phrase, “Economic fundamentals are sound”, the President has elected instead to declare that “Economic fundamentals are really, really sound,” said the spokeperson.

    Treasury head Henry Paulson lauded the change as “a step forward,” while Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stated that the data supported the first “really” but further data was necessary to actually substantiate the second “really”.

    “However,” said Bernanke, “using two reallys is certainly a courageous and proper method for the President to use to stem ongoing credit market concerns.”

    On a related note, T.V. personality Jim Cramer was quoted as saying, “They have no CLUE!”

    Pre-market trading was mixed on the conflicting news and profit taking.

  12. Chris commented on Jan 5

    Why does Scoble own the data of his friend’s on Facebook? Doesn’t that belong, um, to his friend’s? I’m a friend of Scoble’s, and he didn’t ask me if he could have my birthday, he took it. That’s MY data, if it is anyone’s.

    In addition to which, the usage agreement he is held under for Facebook makes it clear he in fact doesn’t own that data.

  13. Cynic commented on Jan 5

    We have institutionalized a culture of lies in America.

    Our government lies and steals.

    Our corporate leaders lie and steal.

    Our borrowers and lenders lie and steal.

    And we sugar coat all this deceit with nouns like ‘marketing’ and ‘spin’, with no penalties for the miscreants.

    So when it comes to the stock market, the key to success is the same as that used by its practitioners – think like a criminal.

  14. Eleven commented on Jan 5

    I trust that over any 20 year time period global small cap stocks will outperform every other asset class because the world keeps growing and innovating. Even though I trust ETF’s over mutual funds, I trust the VICE Fund will out perform most indexes over every 20 year time period because with freedom we all become typical.I trust physical gold, but besides the GLD ETF there is no real honest liquid market. And I trust Wall St. will come back and find new ways to make money again.

    We all trust google a lot, it’s kind of scary. I trust that my DVD collection will become pointless as did my VHS collection, because there will be something new. I trust that if i buy a new phone or video game console that I will want another new one in a couple of months and be pissed i didn’t wait. I trust that CNBC will always have bearish people on television on down days and bullish people on up days.

    I do not trust WEBMD as it tells me I have many diseases when I just have a cold.
    I do not trust Decaf coffee. I do not trust that employees wash their hands in the bathroom in restaurants. I do not trust cold callers. I do not trust rental real estate brokers or the BS descriptions they put on their website postings. I also do not trust social networking sites or people who do trust social networking sites. I don’t really trust weather forecasters.

    Lastly, I trust that even a broken clock is right twice a day just like every permabull and permabear…

  15. Bob Morris commented on Jan 5

    Yahoo: Yes, it is sad. My GMail account filters virtually all the spam into a spam folder. My Yahoo Mail account always presents me with a multitude of spams in the Inbox. If Google can do it, why not Yahoo?

    Data: If I give you my email and birthday, I assume you’ll put it a number of places. Too many online services are one way, the data comes in and is never allowed to leave. But that will change, just like with the record companies finally giving up on DRM, the social networking sites will soon finally give up on being closed systems.

  16. Marcus Aurelius commented on Jan 5

    I trust the Federal Government…



  17. John Badalian commented on Jan 5

    Barry – I’ll tell you about one organization that I trust less, and that’s the New York Times.

    As (another) example, in this morning’s article entitled: “Unemployment Sounds Warning About the Economy”, the authors stated: “In calculating the rate of job growth, the Labor Department relies upon a sampling of payroll data and an EXTRAPOLATION (my emphasis) of how many jobs have been created and destoyed. An Extrapolation?? Nowhere, and I mean nowhere in this timid article are there references to that Dark Star, the computer Birth/Death Model, much less any question or controversy involving its its use or abuse. In fact, the article continues that “the houshold survey is notoriously volatile & treated with SKEPTICISM” (again, my emphasis!). Yeah, and the birth/death model assumes “fatwa” status! The establishment Times is too stupid and corrupt to be a reliable source for economic reporting!

  18. techy2468 commented on Jan 5

    off topic:

    Bears beware…FED maybe heading towards 50 bps cut, and there will be another rally…..

    in other words cover your shorts, sharpen your knives and start all over again after rate cut….


  19. Stuart commented on Jan 5

    I trust that the elected public officials have my best interest at heart. That George Bush, Henry Paulson, Ben Bernanke all understand the unfolding financial stress and have planned out thoroughly an effective strategy that is designed to protect my assets. That the Government reporting and trade association reporting is 100% unbiased, objective and is delivered with intent to ensure I have a purely objective and contextually correct understanding of what is important. That the market regulatory authorities are taking every effort to ensure that the trading and custody of my equity holdings are safeguarded with complete integrity. I trust that the mainstream media is doing its utmost to ensure it is never lazy, is completely diligent in ensuring all headlines and background data is verified, reliable and relevant before going to press. I trust that I’ve had enough Bourbon now and I can put down the bottle before any more dribble comes off my finger tips….

  20. That Guy Drinks Beer commented on Jan 5

    – Steven Spielberg
    – Newegg product ratings (by the customers)
    – David Ansen movie reviews in Newsweek
    – Jimmy Carter
    – Tim Russert
    – Pixar
    – John Stossel
    – Ukrops (but I moved, sigh)
    – Frontline
    – NPR
    – Immediate family

    Out of time, I’m sure there’s more.

  21. Clyde commented on Jan 5

    The only insurance company I trust is USAA out of San Antonio. I gladly pay higher premiums to know that when I have a legit claim I don’t have to get a lawyer to retrieve it.

    Capital One I trust to a point because they are the most competent card company. I don’t have to watch them 24/7 like the other card companies. But is mostly a trust in their competence, not their motives.

  22. Clyde commented on Jan 5

    The only insurance company I trust is USAA out of San Antonio. I gladly pay higher premiums to know that when I have a legit claim I don’t have to get a lawyer to retrieve it.

    Capital One I trust to a point because they are the most competent card company. I don’t have to watch them 24/7 like the other card companies. But is mostly a trust in their competence, not their motives.

  23. D H commented on Jan 5

    Two new occasions to question trust:

    FOX has censored Ron Paul (a REPUBLICAN) from their debates. Is this “Fair & Balanced”?

    The AARP censored Dennis Kucinich from a debate about healthcare because he supports bringing outrageous costs down by making the sector non-profit.

    I am noting these two examples because they are timely, not because I care about FOX or the AARP. (Spare Barry the diatribes about how evil FOX is … we all know they are not a trustworthy media company.)

  24. Bob A commented on Jan 5

    Google will inevitably become just another bloated postal service-like bureaucracy like Microsoft and Yahoo as the young people who built it become older and wealthier and overly protective of their domains… making it an unattractive place to the best and brightest young innovators, who will start the next new thing. I don’t think they’re any more worthy of your trust than Enron was.

  25. David Merkel commented on Jan 5

    Capitalism is based on trust. Without trust, capitalism will slowly cease to exist. Yes, there will be barter-type transactions, but any complex long-term transaction or relationship is based on trust. Any multi-party transaction requires trust, because multiple parties can gang up on the weak one.

    Even representative government requires trust. Now, that trust is often abused, but who wants to get rid of representative government?

    There is a lot more trust within our society than most of us imagine. Woe betide us if trust drops to a minimum level.

  26. rickrude commented on Jan 5

    Add Larry Kudlow, to your list.

  27. pmorrisonfl commented on Jan 5

    I trust my wife, my pastor, my friends and family. I’ve got a network of colleagues and partners, current and former, that I trust with various things in various ways to various degrees, but I wouldn’t trade them.

    I prefer to buy from Amazon if I’m not buying in person, so I trust them with certain financial information. In my view, both Amazon and Google are competent. The scale seems to slide downhill from there.

    I try to compartmentalize, not letting any one entity hold too much information beyond what’s needed to do business with that entity.

    I’ve trusted various governmental entities with my SSN, I try to keep it to that.

    I gave my profile information to LinkedIn, but that was before I read BR’s post on why not. The cat’s out of the bag, so be it.

    I trust Honda to sell me a car that will run for a long time.

    I trust Starbucks to sell me a Grande Mocha that’ll taste the same wherever I go.

    I’m glad I use T-Mobile, because they’re not an american telecom company. I recognize that just because I haven’t heard they ship my data to the NSA doesn’t mean that they don’t.

    For financial news and views, I like TBP (thank you), Mish, Minyanville, John Mauldin, patrick.net, and the Economist. I always listen when Warren Buffett speaks. I try to keep up with WSJ, Bloomberg and finance.yahoo.com, but I don’t know that I trust them.

    In tech, I trust Jerry Weinberg, and the members of his ‘posse’ that I’ve gotten to know. Tom DeMarco’s worth listening to as well There are plenty others, but that would be digging too deep here.

  28. Mark Hessel commented on Jan 5

    Interesting question.

    In my most cynical moods, the song “Everbody Know’s” by Leonard Cohen
    would sum it up.


    Musically the best version, I’ve heard is by Concrete Blond on “Still in Hollywood”.


    Leonard truly sucks as a vocalist — hope he doesn’t mind that comment.

    But, in general, I trust humanity. I don’t think there would be 6 billion
    people on this planet if this was not the case.

    When I get in my car, I pretty much trust that another car will not
    careen into my lane. I guess that means I trust the human survival
    instinct. I still drive defensively, though, because I also believe
    in the never ending human propensity for stupidity.

    In the end, real trust is earned at every level.

    I trust my immediate family and close friends at almost all levels.

    I barely know him but, I trust my car mechanic for car repair.
    Beyond that, I don’t know.

    I have to trust the IRS. (I’m just talking about the IRS and not the US
    government in general. The IRS haven’t screwed me yet. I’m keeping my fingers
    crossed on this one. I can recall a few times that I’ve screwed them — I guess
    that means I’ve screwed everyone in the US. Oh well. Can’t trust me, ay.)

    I trust Addison Avenue Credit Union. I’ve been keeping track of every
    penny for years and out of all the mistakes that I’ve found, I’m the
    one that has f**ked up — not really sure why I bother to keep track

    I trust real science. How’s it’s applied is another matter.

    I trust Google. I’ve been hesitant to use Gmail as my main email because
    they have explicit access to it. But honestly, I’ve come to the view point
    it really doesn’t matter because any chosen ISP has total access to your email.
    Google has been very good to me — most excellent starting point for information
    of any kind.

    I also trust Wikipedia as a starting point for information.

    I trust transparency. In the end, I think transparency in business and
    government would solve most of our current problems.

  29. Fervent Ferret commented on Jan 5

    The CEO of Economy, Inc. is not truthful or wise but exceedingly crafty, cunning and deceitful. The whole game is rigged in favor of the house. The end game is control of the hearts and minds of all mankind. ” Amor nummi crescit quantum ipsa pecunia crescit. ”

    Since the Pirates of Capital have pushed us to the brink in one direction, we now face a snap back reaction in the other. What this guy did with this video sums up things nicely.


  30. rob commented on Jan 5

    Publix supermarkets, the Florida chain. Been shopping there for close to forty years.

  31. DavidB commented on Jan 5


    That’s about it. I don’t even trust myself….but then again I’ve lived with me a while.

    I’m more than prepared to die for every word that comes from my mouth. If I’m not then I’m not willing to say it. What is the point?

    Yahoo tolerates stalkers and should be the subject of class action lawsuits. Their user agreement is absurd and would be laughed out of court

  32. lux commented on Jan 5

    I want to believe that people are generally good and worthy of my trust, but I know that too often, they are not. Eventually, though, you have to put some trust in at least a few people and/or institutions. Otherwise you turn into a freaky recluse with all your money stuffed into your mattress.

  33. sk commented on Jan 5

    I certainly don’t trust the Brit. govt with my personal data – after losing all child benefit records : 25million people’s names, addresses, dates of birth and bank account details and National Insurance(like SSN) numbers -and losing 3 million learner driver records – AND losing at least 200,000 patient records held as part of the National Health system, would you trust them ?

    In the financial “community”, I trust NOONE; they are either cheats, if not they are liars and if not they “know nuffin'”. Sorry BR.

    I trust my wife (who is also a childhood friend) of many many years and other childhood friends I’ve had for 40 years or so. That’s mostly because I can “read” them and they can “read” me and we accept each other after so long an acquaintance for what we are. Same with my cat of 15 years. That’s all I trust.


  34. paul commented on Jan 5

    I trust myself, it starts to deteriorate from there.

  35. Bob A commented on Jan 5

    I trust there will always be people who will take from others just because they can, and they will ask those very people to trust them while they do it.

  36. Jason G. commented on Jan 5

    I certainly don’t trust people (companies) when they don’t have a vested interest in keeping me happy. If my unhappiness is not a lost profit for them, I’m very hesitant to believe they will do the right thing for me.

    I absolutely hate Quicken as software (as well as MS’s Money), but I use it because I’m not about to trust Mint or Wesabe with my account numbers. If one of these online services partnered with my bank, then I’d consider it… but not as long as they’re standalone companies.

    As for news and bias… it’s nearly impossible to assume news doesn’t have some bias. Bloomberg’s website seems the least conflicted, but they still have their warts.

    I’ve built up a list of bloggers that I trust, or at least trust enough to give their thoughts an honest consideration.

    Those of us that are skeptical are few and far between. I read TBP because it provides some good skepticism without going off the deep end. While I might not agree with every argument or logical conclusion, I find the arguments here to at least be grounded in fact and reality.

  37. KP commented on Jan 5

    Trust no one. Not even yourself. Everyone, including you has an agenda/bias which dictates their choices/behavior. Understand this concept completely and learn to use it to filter the noise.

  38. NoFate commented on Jan 6

    I trust very few entities/people. Most people are either incompetent, ignorant or have some hidden agenda. I am more likely to trust those without any conflicting interest. That’s why I prefer most blogs over corporate media.

    There are a few who have never let me down or lied to me (as far as I know):
    – The Economist
    – Keith Olberman
    – Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert
    – Big Picture
    – Calculated Risk
    – John Maulden
    – Robert Shiller
    – Probably a few more…

    It’s a pretty short list and if you blow it once I never trust you again. Blowing it might be as simple as writing things that don’t seem to “ring true.” Like listening to the Presidents Spokesliar …they never outright lie, but you know there are fishy things going on …normal people just don’t talk like that.

    On the other hand, some of the people on the list are there because they took great risk at times to tell the truth.

    As far as corporations go, I don’t trust any of then. I have nothing against them per se, it’s just that they are profit driven (as they should be). If they are doing the “right thing” it is ONLY because their brand image demands it.

    Also, if you trust a “corporation” what does that even mean? Are you trusting the board, the CEO, the executive team, the employees, or the shareholders? And lets say you pick the CEO …do you have to reconsider when he leaves? Do you trust the company he goes to?

    I know companies spend billions developing trust as part of their brand image, but it’s kind of bizarre to “trust” any company if you think about it.

  39. anon commented on Jan 6

    I trust my wife and mom and i carry a 357

  40. Robert commented on Jan 6

    I trust reason and logic, nothing else. Well… To a certain extent, I trust the customer reviews (provided there are enough of them) of products all over the internet. When I buy computer parts from Newegg, the first thing I do is sort by most reviews – The stuff that has been purchased more is the stuff that has been found to be a good value. And I always get quality stuff at an excellent price. Gotta love that. I trust that my dog, when I leave her alone for more than thirty minutes, will make herself comfortable on my couch. I certainly don’t trust the government or politicians (although Paul gets more trust than most). Hell, the older I get, the less and less I trust the world in general – I realized long ago that what drives nearly every human action is essentially selfishness; it just hasn’t completely sunk in yet. You know what? I trust people who act entirely in their own interest – At least I know what to expect from them.

  41. D H commented on Jan 6

    Apparently we all trust with blind faith the fiat dollar … the gas station just accepted more of mine this morning.

  42. Estragon commented on Jan 6

    David Merkel’s point is extremely well taken. Without trust, not only modern capitalism but modern society as we know it would be impossible.

    The older I get, the more I understand that the problem is with looking at issues like trust in absolute, binary terms. Reality is shades of grey, levels of trust, degrees of freedom.

  43. Tom commented on Jan 8

    How Johnny Carson got his start.

  44. ef commented on Jan 9

    For so much talk about being a “Christian nation”, many seem to have forgotten the very simple Golden Rule. There’s always been unethical people, but the pendulum swung toward the more honest, hardworking, good-hearted community-oriented people. Being ethical, being honest, is not free, and takes a strong people.
    Trustworthiness is local. The people that deal with you fairly and with respect, not like you are another replaceable widget among billions.

    From a technical perspective:
    Open Source Code Contains Security Holes

  45. The Big Picture commented on Feb 2

    Micro-Hoo!: Desktop vs Internet

    Alternative title: Who Do You Trust?, Part II Last month, we looked at the question: Who Do You Trust?. That discussion considered how the issue of trust impacts various corporate tech firms. In light of yesterday’s Micro-Hoo! announcement (Ya-soft?), …

  46. kurtz commented on Feb 2

    I trust people who make admissions and assertions against self interest when disclosures are made for all motivations they might have in so doing.

    I trust people who make tangible or material sacrifices for the benefit of others.

    I trust people who make mistakes, admit to doing so when they realize it and attempt to correct the error to the extent of their ability.

    I trust people who acknowledge and disclose their biases and self-interest before presenting their argument or position.

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