Germany, Konstanz

UNESCO Chair in Communication


Description and Mandate of the Chair

H-2021: Chaire qui n’existe plus depuis quelques années (Out999).

Electronic forums: We will build up an electronic forum to be used as a platform for the network of UNESCO Chairs in Communication and to support UNESCO’s work incommunication in general. Having gained experience inconstructing and managing electronic forums in the past, inparticular two world-wide forums for UNESCO about information ethics topics which are closed at the moment (cf. and, a new advanced forum software will be developed which could also suit Orbicom’s purposes as well.

Expert data base: We will set up an (hypertext-based) expert data base which will incorporate knowledge about the profiles, activities and professional data of members of the UNESCO networks of Chairs in Communication. A prototype with information about the 22 Orbicom Chairs has been developed as of end of 1999 and will be presented to the Orbicom public early in 2000. This can develop into an excellent coordination tool for Orbicom activities.

Information ethics: We will continue to work oninformation ethics problems and promote public awareness about all topics in the field of information ethics (cf. thetopics in the forums mentioned above). In order to support these activites and to coordinate them with UNESCO and Orbicom we have founded in Konstanz an organization, NETHICS (Ethics in the Net), which will, among other activities, provide information and discussion space on it’s website ( and will organize workshops oninformation ethics topics. Other Orbicom chairs will be invited to take part in these information ethics workshops and conferences. The next international workshop on information ethics organized by NETHICS and supported by UNESCO will take place in May, 2000 in Konstanz. A main subject of research and discussion in this field is currently the usage and the consequences of rating, blockingand filter software which is increasingly used on electronic markets for private, commercial and political purposes and which can endanger the principle of free access and exchange of information.

We are currently working on developing domain-specific multilingual dictionaries and translation aids particularly needed inworld-wide multi-cultural, multi-lingual electronic communication forums.

We would like to establish a platform – or to supportall pertinent activities – for the exchange of knowledge in information and communication curricula on the academic level in order to raise awareness for the importance of advanced information and communication competence which is not to be defined on a technical level only. In particular we would like to support the exchange of teaching material between UNESCO Chairs in Communications in order to build up a network of teaching competence.

In general we will reinforce scientific collaboration and promote international exchanges of academic information by participating in the activities of the UNESCO networks of Chairs in Communication and will share the results of the work undertaken by the Chair with UNESCO and its network of Chairs in Communications (Orbicom). Trust-building in electronic markets from an intercultural point of view. TRUSTTRUST is an international research project which is embedded in current UNESCO, respectively ORBICOM activities. Its general objective is to investigate which (presumably highly culturally dependent) parameters influence or even determine trust-building processes in global electronic information markets.Trust has become a central topic in the literature of sociology, philosophy, economics, and information science in the last ten years. The reason for this is that technical and abstract systems under the conditions of modernity are increasingly thought to be lacking in security and certainty. This is particularly true for information systems and services in the Internet environment, which are more and more used by laymen without any special information training. If we cannot extricate ourselves from this situation of uncertainty alone, then there is a need for mechanisms of compensation. Nobody can live permanently in a situation of informational uncertainty. The main way to compensate for our lack of knowledge in handling modern systems is trust. Trust reduces uncertainty; it does not make up for lack of knowledge, but it allows us to believe and act as if we were in a state of full and certain knowledge.

Let us mention a few examples of uncertainty in electronic environments:

How can we be sure that the search engines, the robots of the Yahoos, Alta Vistas index web sites are without ulterior motives, that is do not manipulate data? Are we sure that they provide us with the information, and only the information, that we actually need? Which factors determine the ranking position of the hits presented to the users as a result of their search? Is it based on information or relevance or can the ranking position be achieved by influence, interest or even by plain cash?

What happens with the personal or professional email we send over the network? Is it subject to permanent inspection and exploitation by people who are unauthorized to do so?

What happens with to personal data when we make enquiries in an information market place or when we carry out financial transactions?

What should we do if the web sites we wish to visit ask us to accept cookies or other inspection programmes which nest in our personal computers and carry out actions we are not aware of? Who can guarantee that they are not harming us or our computers? Must we be afraid that they might steal our personal data?

How reliable are the automatic summaries, the automatic translations and other advanced information services which are provided by many information/content providers and which increasingly influence our private and professional decisions?

How much information competence can we delegate to (more or less) intelligent software agents? How responsibly, for example, will the software stock agent handle our personal money when we allow him or her to buy and sell stocks for us? Will the use of agents increase our information power or does it mean a decrease in human (information) autonomy?

Electronic markets — the main cause of an increase in uncertainty and even mistrust – will be difficult to escape in the near future. In order to establish an environment which is based on mutual respect and trust rather than on mistrust and suspicion, the following problems (among many others) need to be handled appropriately:

Society must find compromises in defining principles for fair and open use of information which acknowledge both the right to individual privacy (defined as active and passive information self-determination) and the need for reasonable marketing strategies based on information about the consumers.

Electronic transaction processes and delegated information work are always subject to potential mistrust and even „Angst ». There is a need for personal, media and organizational trust devices to compensate for the lack of information and understanding.

A special responsibility is incumbent on information experts, who are able to verify the reliability and truthworthiness of information devices and market places. Trust as an „as-if »-procedure is also built up by delegating the responsibility for controlling information devices to trusted experts.

Trust-building also needs to be institutionalized, because personal experience and delegated personal expertise are not always sufficiently available. Trust centers and commercial trust companies will only be successful if they can achieve a public acceptance beyond political and commercial interest.

There is no doubt that trust will be a major success factor for organizations of all kinds in electronic environments. It is even likely that the costs for effective trust management will be comparable to the costs for the production and distribution of information goods and services. The problem with trust is that it is highly dependent on cultural values, which vary greatly in different regions of the world. Information organizations operate on a world-wide basis but the mechanisms of trust-building are in general deeply rooted in their own cultural heritage.TRUST will therefore investigate the role of trust and the mechanisms of building trust in different regions in the world. In particular we would like to find out

whether culturally specific factors of trust-building will remain stable even in electronic environments — if so, actors on electronic markets will need to take them seriously into consideration when conflicts in intercultural communication are to be avoided (this is the diversification thesis or the thesis of multiculturalism),

whether universal trust principles and trust-building mechanisms will develop in electronic information markets (this is the convergence thesis or the thesis of a strong transculturalism),

whether the dynamics of electronic media and electronic markets will build new mixed forms of local and universal (native and foreign) trust principles and trust-building mechanisms (this is the thesis of interculturalism or the thesis of weak transculturalism).

The project will establish several research groups in different regions of the world consisting of people from universities and from the media field. ORBICOM, the global network of the UNESCO Chairs in Communications, provides a platform for the establishment of these regional groups where empirical investigations will be carried out in order to identify trust-building mechanisms with respect to central information ethics topics such as access, privacy, filtering/rating/blocking, information as a public/privat good, information policies etc. The research, although partly relying on traditional empirical data gathering techniques (questionnaires, document/content analysis etc.), will mainly be carried out via electronic communication means, preferably using email and electronic communication forums, where the Konstanz research group has acquired some knowledge and experience in the last few years.

Besides a control group in Germany the project would like to build research groups in all 6 continents. TRUST aims at a truly global project design. The project is open to other proposals and participants. So far, we have groups in the following regions in mind: Asia (Japan, Korea, Malaysia), Australia, East-Europe (Hungary and Russia), South-America (Brazil, Chile, Uruguay), USA/Canada and Africa (Marocco and Ivory Coast). Some UNESCO/ORBICOM chairholders have already been invited and others will be invited in the near future to join the project and to lead appropriate sub-groups as mentioned above.

The realization of the project depends heavily on public funding (industry, foundations, UNESCO/MOST). The Konstanz group is in the process of assembling the financial means needed to carry out this ambitious project. The project start-up is planned for September 2000. Any suggestions to this preliminary proposal are welcome; please email to the author: Selected references

[Boudourides 1998] M.A. Boudourides: Cultural studies of Science; Complexity, and the Internet. In: Trans: Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften, 1998, 6, ([Gackenbach 1998] J. Gackenbach (ed.): Psychology and the Internet. Intrapersonal, interpersonal, and transpersonal implications. Academic Press: San Diego etc. 1998[Gambetta, 1988] D. Gambetta (ed.): Trust: Making and breaking cooperative relations. Blackwell: New York 1988[Gelfand/Christakopoulou, 1999] M. Gelfand, S. Christakopoulou: Culture and negotiator cognition, Judgement accuracy and negotiation processes in indivdualistic and collectivistic cultures. Organizational-Behavior-and-Human-Decision-Processes, 1999, 79, 3, 248-269[Grossman 1997] W.M. Grossman: Networks of trust. In: net.wars. New York University Press: New York; London 1997. 182-191[Kerckhove 1997] D.d.Kerckhove: Connected Intelligence, The arrival of the web society. Sommerville House Publishing: Toronto, 1997[Kolbo/Reid 1998] B. Kolko, E. Reid: Dissolution and fragmentation: Problems in on-line communities. In: S.G. Jones (ed.): Cybersociety 2.0: Revisiting computer-mediated communication and community. New media cultures, Vol.2. Sage: Thousand Oaks, USA, 1998, 212-229[Kuhlen 1998] Trust – a principle for ethics and economics in the global information society. Proceedings UNESCO 2nd Congress on Information Ethics, Monte Carlo, Monaco, 1.-3. Okt. 1998[Kuhlen 1999] R. Kuhlen: Die Konsequenzen von Informationsassistenten. Was bedeutet informationelle Autonomie oder wie kann Vertrauen in elektronische Dienste in offenen Informationsmärkten gesichert werden? Suhrkamp: Frankfurt a. Main, 1999, stw 1443[LaValley 1997] J. LaValley: Doing It in Cyberspace, Cultural Sensitivity in Applied Anthropology. Anthropology of Consciousness, 1997, 8, 4, 113-132[Luhmann 1988] N. Luhmann: Familiarity, confidence, trust: Problems and alternatives. In: (Gambetta 1988), 94-107[Seligman 1997] A.B. Seligman: The problem of trust. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ, 1997[Willert 1998] C. Willert: Theorizing Multiculturalism, A Guide to the Current Debate. Blackwell: Oxford UK 1998.
Rainer KuhlenUniversity of Konstanz — Department of Computer and Information ScienceKonstanz, April 2000

Dernière mise à jour : ( 2011-02-02 )

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