Swiss initiative launches digital trust label

Former Swiss federal councillor and chair of the Swiss Digital Initiative, Doris Leuthard  speaking at the WEF annual meeting 2020 in Davos where the initiative was officially launched. (Credit: World Economic Forum / Manuel Lopez via Flickr)

Geneva-based foundation, the Swiss Digital Initiative (SDI), on Wednesday launched a label to help business customers and internet users identify which online services can be trusted. Its chair, former Swiss president Doris Leuthard, tells Geneva Solutions the standard will help provide users with “more transparency and security” in an increasingly tech-driven world.

On its website, the reinsurance company Swiss Re dangles a tempting offer for insurers:  Magnum Go, one of its latest cloud-based automated digital products, promises a speedier underwriting process that cuts the time “from weeks to minutes”.

Positioned next to it is a red logo with a white fingerprint forming the shape of a Swiss cross – and a text that declares Magnum Go “is certified by the Digital Trust Label”.

The product is one of the first two digital services to be certified under the new label, launched last night by the Swiss Digital Initiative (SDI).

The goal: to help customers tell which online services are safe and secure to use.

Why it matters. New digital technologies have thrived during the pandemic, helping people to shop, work, learn and receive medical help, all from their home. However, increased flows of data in exchange for these services has also increased fears over how that data is being handled and protected.

Controversy over the SwissCovid contact tracing app as well as the rejection by Swiss voters last year of a proposed law to create a digital ID also highlights an underlying wariness towards the application of new technologies.

“It's all about trust,” says Doris Leuthard, chair of the SDI, a public-private initiative launched in September 2019 to promote ethical standards and security on the web.

“The digital world brings a lot of good elements to our societies, but we also have to take care of our personal privacy and private data. Policymakers have to care more and more about these aspects, as well as companies, if they want to survive,” she told Geneva Solutions.

Independent standards and certifications like the Digital Trust Label can help play an important role in building trust, Leuthard adds.

Read also: ‘Dealing with techlash will be more painful if we don’t build digital trust’

How it works. An expert committee led by Lausanne’s EPFL has developed 35 criteria to decide whether a digital service merits its seal of approval or not.  They fall under four categories: security, data protection, reliability and fair interaction with the users.

“There were a lot of difficulties at first to develop adequate criteria. How do you measure trust and can you have criterias which can also be audited?,” Leuthard said. Experts initially came up with 100 indicators that were eventually reduced to 35.

Existing international standards from other verifying bodies like the ISO were also taken into consideration to ensure that the label will be taken up by companies in Switzerland and abroad.

So far, only Swiss Re’s Magnum Go and Swisscom’s Electronic Seal,  a blockchain-based electronic seal for companies that can guarantee tamper-proof data, have been awarded the Digital Trust Label.

Another six digital services offered by, Cisco, Credit Exchange, Kudelski, UBS Switzerland and Wefox are in the process of being evaluated.

Facing the competition. According to the SDI, the Digital Trust Label is “a world first” for digital responsibility but global take-up of the label is still far from guaranteed. The pandemic already scuppered the initiative’s original plans to launch at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, settling for an online reveal instead.

“This would have been the best platform for a national and international spread,” said Leuthard. However, she is confident that the scheme will generate strong demand from companies seeking to prove to customers the credibility of their services.

“Our team in Geneva has already seen many companies, especially digital companies, that want to have some kind of label that can show they have all sorts of responsibilities. So we are quietly optimistic that we will have a lot of interest from companies and from users.”

The label faces competition from other certification schemes, such as privacy labels developed by Apple for its own products, and another Swiss initiative supported by Credit Suisse and Migros called Privacy Icons.

However, Leuthard played down this threat, saying the Digital Trust Label’s broad focus gave it a comparative advantage. The fact that the label is presided over by an independent foundation headquartered in Geneva, at the Campus Biotech, is another key benefit, Leuthard adds.

“Geneva as an international place of work with a lot of international organisations has a certain credibility and I think this can also add an additional value to our trust label.”