Which kind of photograph makes a retailer seem trustworthy?

How is trust created between buyers and sellers on the Internet? Professor Dr. Timm Teubner, newly appointed to Technische Universität Berlin and the Einstein Center Digital Future (ECDF) with effect from April 1, 2018, conducts his research into this question from a perspective informed by sociology and economics.

From 2004 to 2010, the 33-year-old junior professor studied industrial engineering at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, where he also completed his doctorate and subsequently worked as a postdoctoral researcher. He spent one year studying at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) in the USA. Professor Teubner, Chair of Trust in Digital Services at Faculty VII, is looking forward to continuing his research into digital platforms from A (as in Amazon) to Z (as in Zalando), taking advantage of the interdisciplinary framework of the ECDF.

“To put it simply, we are investigating which elements or display formats of an online platform create trust, both among customers and retailers. But we are also exploring how real-estate agents or hosts need to present themselves in order to be chosen by customers. A good example in this regard is Airbnb, a platform for vacation rentals whose entire design is based on findings gained from research into trust in digital services,” says Professor Teubner.

The research is conducted in a realistic setting: researchers invite test persons to carry out transactions on a fictitious platform. For this purpose, the platform is varied in such a way as to enable, for instance, sellers to upload different profile pictures or use a rating system – or even to prevent them from doing so. Known from science, the so-called Trust Game, in which participants operate with real money, symbolizes the commercial action. In this way, it is possible to observe, in realistic conditions, which factors create trust. In many cases, the effect of individual factors is not surprising, but what is decisive is how far particular details contribute to creating trust.

“I am planning a new ECDF-based project that deals with information bubbles: we will look into the questions of how information bubbles develop and whether users have the possibility to determine the size of their personal bubble online. Our goal is to develop something like a Bubble-o-Mat – similar to the web application Wahl-o-Mat,” says Professor Teubner.

What appeals to him about the ECDF is its special structure involving universities and the business world that opens up new possibilities for cooperation. But the booming digital startup scene in Berlin is also a major advantage for his work. (kj)