The Technology Industry’s PR Problem
By Matt Brennan
When the internet and social media companies were in their infancy stages, trust and optimism were high. The public had positive outlooks on what the future might look like with new technology reshaping the world. Today, that same level of trust simply isn’t there.
Companies that struggle with privacy issues struggle with their image, and rightly so. The urgency to remedy any privacy issues is high for this reason. Consumers expect to be able to use services without having data sold to third parties or stolen. But this year, the word “techlash” took off, and Oxford Dictionary defined it as the strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence that large technology companies hold.
Presidential candidates are making technology an issue by calling for the breakup of some of the industry’s larger companies. Big names like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Mark Cuban are warning people that artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human species. All of this means that Silicone Valley and the tech industry in general no longer benefit from the public’s blind trust.
Social Media Companies
Consumer trust in social media is still at a significant low, following the 2016 presidential elections. Concerns rise as a handful of these companies gain a stranglehold on massive amounts of consumer data and what might be possible with it.
Trust remains a significant issue for Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter and other companies that work hard to collect massive amounts of data. Google compiles data from every search. Amazon is compiling data every time you use Alexa. All of it is done behind the scenes, and the public may generally remain skeptical about how much of it actually benefits users.
The Tech Industry as a Force for Good
Tech companies need to proactively earn back the public trust now, so that they can get on with solving the problems of tomorrow. A lack of trust now could significantly impede their efforts in the long run as they face developing new technologies.
For example, more can be done to safeguard the use of data while keeping users’ best interests in mind. Tech companies can do more to place the greater good of their communities above their profit line. This may mean finding other metrics to measure success other than time on site.
Blockchain, AI, autonomous automobiles, IoT, the cloud, mobile technology and other new developments carry with them a significant amount of promise. It’s easy to see how these developments can replenish the public’s optimism. But at the same time, fears on issues such as automation or the threats of AI need to be addressed.
From an ongoing PR perspective, users need to be able to realistically trust that they won’t be leaving themselves vulnerable as they use these services. They need to be able to trust that using these new products won’t leave them exposed in the long-term.