2 Less Trust and More Expectations

How the Changing Landscape of Trust and Technology is Reshaping the Relationship Between Consumers, Citizens, Businesses, and Governments

From the perspective of businesses and governments, one thing has become clear: we can no longer speak of ‘the citizen’ or ‘the consumer’ as we used to. The old-fashioned categorization into large groups is eroding, partly due to the individualization of society, technological developments, and the way companies and governments have dealt with their customers and clients. Think of the resistance from citizens against how companies collect data about them unchecked or the protests against the collective COVID measures imposed by the government.

How the Benefits Scandal Broke Citizens’ Trust

In the benefits scandal, thousands of parents were wrongly accused of fraud in applying for childcare allowances. This scandal revealed significant shortcomings in the systems of the tax authorities. Automatic processing and the lack of human oversight led to severe personal and financial consequences for the affected families. Not only were they labeled as fraudsters by the tax authorities, but other government agencies also deemed them ‘suspects’ due to the exchange of fraud data and scrutinized them.

Thus, for the affected parents, it was no longer just the tax authorities, but the entire government that unjustly pursued them. A government that rarely acts as a single entity and seldom imposes coordinated, cross-departmental sanctions. This can lead to situations where a citizen reaches a settlement with one bailiff, only to be visited by another bailiff or creditor from the government the same day. Such uncoordinated actions not only damage the direct relationship between citizen and government but also cause bystanders, family, and friends to distrust the government, as what happens to one person could happen to another.

This phenomenon also applies to businesses. For instance, ING intended to sell anonymized payment data to companies for tailored advertisements. This idea led to a flood of criticism and the departure of customers who felt that ING had crossed a line and breached their trust.

Beyond Traditional Narratives and Power Structures

The interesting question is: why is this breach of trust between citizen and government more prominent now than in previous years? Historian, futurist, and author Yuval Noah Harari concludes that this loss of trust stems from a combination of economic uncertainty, political polarization, and the influence of technology and social media in undermining traditional narratives and power structures. In his book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” Harari explores how technological disruption and globalization contribute to a sense of uprooting and uncertainty, leading to reduced trust in traditional institutions. He points out that in a world where information is overwhelming and often contradictory, people tend to doubt the reliability of existing powers. Harari also highlights the role of social media in polarizing users by feeding them information that reinforces their existing beliefs, creating echo chambers where distrust and conspiracy theories flourish.

The Relationship Between Citizen and Government: Ten Years Back

Increased Desire for Citizen Participation

A notable trend over the past ten years is the growing desire of citizens to actively participate in the government’s decision-making process. Citizens no longer want to be mere recipients of decisions made by the government. This manifests in various forms beyond traditional intermediaries, such as public consultation evenings, online participation platforms, and policy co-creation with stakeholders.

Higher Education Levels

The average education level of Dutch citizens has risen over the past decade. Better-educated citizens are often more informed and knowledgeable about complex issues. This leads to a growing demand for transparency and fairness from the government. Citizens expect decisions to be based on facts and scientifically substantiated arguments, rather than political interests or prejudices.


Individuals are increasingly focused on their own needs and desires, valuing a personal approach. Citizens expect the government to treat them as individuals with unique needs, rather than as anonymous participants in a mass process. Conversely, the government emphasizes citizens’ self-reliance and personal responsibility. This can lead to feelings of overload among citizens who lack the resources or skills to solve problems independently.

Additional Government Requirements for Citizens

An example is the digitization of services. More and more government matters are handled digitally, requiring a higher level of digital skills from citizens. This poses a challenge for people with limited digital skills, such as the elderly.

Government Mistakes

Scandals (benefits scandal, earthquakes in Groningen, floods in Limburg) have significantly shaped citizens’ perceptions of their government. These scandals and their poor handling undermine citizens’ belief in the integrity and reliability of the government.

Self-Checkout and Online Reviews

In the past ten years, consumers have experienced a significant change in their interactions with businesses, mainly due to technological advancements and digitization. A clear example is the disappearance of personal contact. Whereas we used to visit a travel agency to arrange a trip, today we surf to a website where we preferably compare offers from various travel agencies. In stores, we now use self-checkout kiosks, and in bookstores, we are expected to request the book we are looking for at an information terminal. Where consumers previously spoke to staff in physical stores, they now handle much of their business via digital interfaces and chatbots. This reduces human interaction and can sometimes lead to frustration when resolving complex problems becomes more difficult without direct human contact.

What applies to the relationship between government and consumer also largely applies to the relationship with businesses; consumers have shifted from passive spectators to active participants who demand greater transparency, authenticity, and engagement from companies. The rise of social media has made it easier for consumers to give direct feedback and openly discuss company practices, leading to a greater emphasis on corporate responsibility and image. If you’re looking for a restaurant or contractor today, you first check reviews on Google, Yelp, or another social platform. This clarifies many of the qualities of businesses and gives you an initial idea of what to expect. Companies must be proactive in responding to feedback. One or two bad reviews might be ignored, but before you know it, your customer base could dwindle.

Ordering a Package 24/7

The demand for personalized products and experiences has increased because companies now have the technology to collect and analyze large amounts of data. This provides opportunities for consumers to find products that closely match their individual preferences. However, this data collection also raises concerns about privacy and the security of personal information, which can undermine trust in companies.

The shift to online shopping has also changed the consumer experience: convenience and speed have become more important than the traditional shopping experience. Consumers now expect seamless integration of online and offline channels, allowing them to access shopping services at any time and through any device.

Looking to the Future

Writer and journalist George Orwell indicated in his well-known book “1984” that when people have to choose between freedom and happiness, they choose the latter. In today’s society, dictated by technology, there is hardly any real freedom left. A multitude of Big Brothers keeps an eye on us: Facebook, TikTok, Apple, Google, and other tech companies monitor everything we do minute by minute based on our own data. In the next ten years, the grip of Big Tech on our lives will only increase.

1. Artificial Intelligence and Automation

AI and automation will increasingly take over tasks, impacting what citizens and consumers know, can do, and experience. This offers both opportunities (support with tax returns, for example) and threats (very strong individual profiling that unnecessarily offers products and services).

2. Sustainability and Ethical Responsibility

Growing concerns about climate change and social injustice drive the demand for sustainable and ethically responsible products and services. More people will seek products and services with a lesser negative impact on society and the environment.

3. Social Media and Online Platforms

Social media will play an even more important role in influencing public opinion and consumer behavior. Companies and governments must learn to deal with the immediacy and transparency of these platforms. This offers opportunities for engagement but also risks further polarization due to fake news and misinformation.

4. Increased Emphasis on Privacy and Data Protection

Due to increasing concerns about privacy and new European legislation, citizens will have more transparency and control over their personal data. Whether all citizens are capable of handling this is still questionable. Today, most people accept cookies without thinking about the consequences.

5. Invasive Technology

The number of devices that store and manage personal information via the internet is increasing exponentially. The coffee machine, smart doorbell, cameras, and voice assistants will soon know more about you than the people in your physical environment. This can lead to a situation where citizens are continuously monitored, even in their own homes. While this has advantages for energy management and personal convenience, it also carries risks. Who has access to this data, and how is it used?

This could lead to a growing awareness among citizens and consumers about their data usage and a demand for sustainability and ethical business practices. Citizens and consumers increasingly see themselves as important stakeholders who can influence organizations, not only through their purchasing behavior but also through their influence and voice in public forums. Organizations will need to talk more with citizens and consumers, make fewer assumptions, and pay more attention to individual interests.