The technology industry is experiencing trust issues — often referred to as Techlash. A recent study by UK thinktank, Doteveryone, surveyed 2000 people and uncovered some worrying results. Only 19% believed that technology companies designed products and services with consumer’s best interests in mind. Frequent concerns included fake news, AI decision making, facial recognition technology and targeted advertising. The majority felt that the technology industry was under-regulated, and they would even accept reduced services in order to increase regulation.
This can have real consequences for organisations. Firstly, they will lose out on the customer loyalty that aligning with consumer values and establishing trust creates. According to Accenture, establishing digital trust could help firms save more than $5 trillion in lost value over the next five years. Secondly, failing to prioritise trust may result in harsh government intervention. At the end of July, the CEO’s of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google were hauled in for antitrust hearings after allegations of misconduct. Luckily, some companies are now putting trust at the core of their strategy. Here are a few public examples.
Rolls Royce’s AI ethics framework
AI has generated a lot of negative media attention recently for algorithmic bias against race, gender and age. Rolls Royce have announced a step-by-step framework which allows users to ensure their use of AI adheres to ethical standards. This framework has been peer-reviewed by both industry and academic experts and will be freely available for any organisation to use. The firm hope it contributes towards regaining public trust in technology. For many, it’s a welcome step in the right direction.
Social media, health and politics
In the wake of ‘fake news’ and the rise of bots spreading misinformation, social media companies are stepping up. Both Facebook and Twitter began removing or labelling COVID-19 posts after harmful misinformation began spreading. Facebook placed warning labels on approximately 90 million pieces of COVID-19 related information during March and April. However, other reports suggest up to 90%of information remained visible, without any warnings attached. Others have criticised the approach for lack of transparency — not disclosing exactly how information is removed or why creates concerns over censorship —which encourages the kind of distrust these companies are trying to avoid.
Last year, Twitter banned all political advertising, and this year Facebook have banned political advertising in the run-up to the US election. Given that these companies will lose out financially (campaigns spend an estimated $1 billion on online ads), this may go some way into reassuring the public that big tech is looking out for them.
IBM recently announced they would no longer be producing facial recognition technology. This was due to concerns that the technology would be used for ‘for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms.’ This was a bold move from IBM, who will now miss out on this potentially lucrative market. However, the announcement has been positively received and the long term-gains in establishing a principled, ethical reputation may be worth it.
The majority of technology companies still have a long way to go to re-establish public trust. However, the industry is beginning to realise that customers are demanding change. Sacrificing short term profits for long-term loyalty may be a valuable strategy, one that many are beginning to adopt.