A Swiss digital seal of trust should become a global benchmark

Philip Monnier

The Geneva-based foundation Swiss Digital Initiative has just launched a label intended to certify the reliability of digital services. A first step towards creating a true international organization in Geneva. Interview with the managing director Niniane Paeffgen.

This content was published on August 12, 2022 – 09:05

Founded by digitalswitzerland and launched in 2019 by the then Federal President Ueli Maurer, the Swiss Digital Initiative wants to promote the implementation of ethical standards in the digital world with specific projects. The Geneva foundation, which is chaired by former Federal Councilor Doris Leuthard, has a budget of around two million Swiss francs for the first three years.

This windfall comes from foundations, the federal government and digitalswitzerland. In addition, the Swiss Digital Initiative also receives benefits in kind from its stakeholders. This foundation just launched a digital trust label called the Digital Trust Label. Meeting in Geneva with Niniane Paeffgen, Managing Director of the Swiss Digital Initiative.

Bio Express

Niniane Paeffgen holds a Masters in International Affairs and Governance from the University of St. Gallen. She has been Managing Director of the Swiss Digital Initiative since November 2019. Previously, she worked in particular for digitalswitzerland, the United Nations Security Council Affairs Division and the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce.

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swissinfo.ch: The ambitions of the Swiss Digital Initiative are global. However, all your donors and all members of your foundation board are Swiss.

Niniane Paeffgen: Our Board of Trustees is actually made up of well-known Swiss personalities, for example Doris Leuthard, the Federal Chancellor, the President of the University of Geneva and the founder of digitalswitzerland.

However, when our initiative was launched in 2019, then Federal President Ueli Maurer invited executives from foreign companies such as Huawei, IBM, Microsoft and Mozilla. These multinational companies are always very interested in our activities. In fact, Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairman of Mozilla, was one of the keynote speakers at our side event at the last World Economic Forum in Davos. Although our supporters are Swiss, we are of course open to financial contributions from abroad.

What are the goals of the Digital Trust Label, your digital trust label launched earlier this year?

The purpose of our label is to signal to users that a digital service is trustworthy in four dimensions: security, privacy, reliability and fair treatment of users.

Our label is particularly suitable for digital applications that require the collection of sensitive data, especially when this data feeds decision-making algorithms. In other words, our seal guarantees a certain level of digital trust and is comparable to organic seals in this sense.

A concrete application example?

In order to access the Credit Suisse (CSX) online account, clients of this bank are required to provide certain personal information during the onboarding process. Thanks to the presence of our label, customers of this service receive a guarantee of protection and security of their personal data.

To ensure digital trust through your label, rely on 35 criteria. Isn’t that too complicated for mere mortals?

Our goal is to minimize complexity for the general public; For this reason, we only highlight the four previously mentioned dimensions, as these dimensions are very easy to understand. However, it is also important to delve into the technical details. To do this, we use a catalog of 35 criteria that was drawn up by a panel of experts headed by the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). Finally, we make all these technical details public to share our experiences, especially with professionals.

Your label has already been awarded to five Swiss companies in May 2022. By this time, fourteen other organizations had also committed to receive this label. What progress since then?

First of all, the five pioneers of digital trust – namely Swisscom, Credit Suisse, Swiss Re, PeopleWeek and Credit Exchange – are very happy with our label. Currently we are concentrating on building our label for the other 14 organizations. The initial certification takes between three and six months (depending on the complexity of the processes to be certified) and costs a five-digit amount.

Do well-known organizations like Swisscom and Credit Suisse really need your label to create trust online?

Absolutely. Our studies have shown that, to a large extent, offline trust does not automatically carry over to the digital world. In other words, for these companies too, our label makes a significant contribution to creating trust in their online applications.

“Offline trust does not automatically carry over to the digital world”

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How do you assess the success of your label?

Our goals will be achieved when users of digital applications have a real opportunity to make informed decisions. In addition, our contribution to the definition of international standards – in our field – is another criterion for success.

In order to be successful again, it is important that your label is known and recognized. However, creating a global label or brand is extremely expensive.

We know that our task will be difficult and long. Since our label is brand new, we face a chicken-and-egg paradox: we need a critical mass of customer companies, but also of users. Luckily we have already done a number of actions, for example our colorful launch in the middle of international Geneva. In addition, our side event at the World Economic Forum in Davos in May 2022 took place in front of a handpicked international audience.

The first twenty organizations interested in your label are mainly Swiss. Why?

Indeed, our approach is to start in Switzerland and then expand abroad. We also count among our first customers the German Wefox, a young German company specializing in online insurance. In addition, UNICEF will soon be the first non-profit organization in Switzerland and Liechtenstein to use our certification for their online donation process.

Who are your competitors?

We have identified around sixty initiatives with goals similar to ours. Nevertheless, we are the only organization in our field that puts Internet users at the center and involves science, business and civil society. In addition, our approach with our four dimensions and our 35 criteria is much broader than looking at a single criterion – for example data protection. Finally, to ensure the seriousness of our work, the certification is carried out by an external company, in this case the Geneva-based company SGS, world leader in inspection, control, analysis and certification.

How important is it to be based in Geneva?

This is one of our greatest assets, because in this city we are surrounded by a multitude of international organizations. Thanks to the natural treasures of Switzerland and Geneva, organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Economic Forum (WEF) shine around the world.

How do you imagine the future of your label and the Swiss Digital Initiative?

Our goal is for our label to become a global reference in our field. We also want to become a truly international organization by building a global network around digital trust.

According to JTI standards

According to JTI standards

More: SWI swissinfo.ch certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

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