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From darlings to damaged—is “techlash” creating reputational fiascos for tech giants?

by | Jun 24, 2019 | Public Relations

Some of the most elite tech giants have managed to cast doubt on their own trustworthiness (and that of the industry at large) in recent years, and increasingly so over the last year. Google, for example, was slapped with a huge fine by EU antitrust regulators in March for blocking rival online search advertisers, while Facebook was famously caught red-handed for selling user data to a third-party research group in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Meanwhile, Amazon has faced criticism over its treatment of workers, and founder Jeff Bezos has emerged as a controversial figure in his own right. Throw in kerfuffles at tech-adjacent companies like Uber and Tesla, and you’ve got what is now referred to “techlash”—recently defined as the growing public animosity towards large Silicon Valley platform tech companies, along with their Chinese equivalents.

But while there has been a lot of attention and conversation around techlash, 82 percent of U.S. and 79 percent of UK consumers still generally trust technology companies, according to new research from comms giant FleishmanHillard. That saidthere is still some generational and country divide—in the U.S., younger generations are more skeptical, with 26 percent of Gen Z and 22 percent of millennials saying they lack trust in technology companies. That’s flipped in the UK, where older generations have less trust, with 38 percent of the silent generation lacking trust versus 13 percent of millennials.

From darlings to damaged—is “techlash” creating reputational fiascos for tech giants?

The firm recently released a new report, Darlings to Damaged? Managing the Technology Sector’s Reputation in an Age of Heightened Scrutiny, assessing the reputational challenges technology companies face today—as well as potential solutions to those challenges in the future.

“Technology advancements have enabled life-saving innovations, boosted productivity, reduced the consumption of natural resources and more, but we wanted to take a step back and look at some of the unintended consequences of those benefits, and their subsequent impact on the tech sector’s reputation,” said John Saunders, president and CEO of FleishmanHillard who recently discussed the issue during the recent Collision tech conference in Toronto, in a news release.

From darlings to damaged—is “techlash” creating reputational fiascos for tech giants?

“Consumers are becoming more aware of data collection and how that information is being shared; tech companies are trying to address any impact they’ve had through greater collaboration and transparency,” Saunders added. “Businesses are navigating through the impacts of artificial intelligence, governments are considering new ways of managing the sector through legislation and regulation. Through qualitative and quantitative research, our report explores consumer sentiment and business solutions in this current environment of heightened scrutiny.”

Transparency

The research from FleishmanHillard TRUE Global Intelligence did show a common path forward, with 70 percent of Americans and Britons saying they’d view technology companies more favorably if they were to take more action to address the consequences of their policies, practices and products.

Regulation

Regulation may also play an important role, with almost a third of respondents thinking that technology companies are regulated too little. Further, it was revealed that some Britons may believe American companies could learn something from the British—60 percent of Britons believe that UK technology companies are regulated about the right amount, with only 32 percent saying they’re regulated too little. Fewer Britons (54 percent) believe U.S. companies are regulated the right amount, and 39 percent believe they need to be regulated more.

How much regulation is right?

From darlings to damaged—is “techlash” creating reputational fiascos for tech giants?

The report’s findings combine original research with insights from some of the world’s leading thinkers in this space, including the CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the CIO of Canada, a Harvard professor and many more.

“As companies navigate the increasingly complex environment, the best approach is to commit to being transparent, and to work collaboratively with government, regulators and academia,” Saunders said. “At the end of the day, it comes down to always doing the right thing, and ensuring you’re operating with the highest ethical standards and in the best interest of your stakeholders.”

From darlings to damaged—is “techlash” creating reputational fiascos for tech giants?

Topics explored in the report include:

  • Consumers’ general level of trust in technology and generational differences
  • Actions consumers expect companies to take to build trust in this space
  • The role of self-regulation, responsibility and shared value in addressing the current reputational challenges
  • The macroeconomic and geopolitical situation more broadly
  • How regulation and legislation might play a role in rebuilding trust
  • What actions should be taken to ensure AI is a benefit to business and society, and
  • The convenience of hyper-personalization, weighed against security risk and data protection needs

Read the full report here.

Topics explored in the report include: Consumers' general level of trust in technology and generational differences Actions consumers expect companies to take to build trust in this space The role of self-regulation, responsibility and shared value in addressing the current reputational challenges The macroeconomic and geopolitical situation more broadly How regulation and legislation might play a role in rebuilding trust What actions should be taken to ensure AI is a benefit to business and society, and The convenience of hyper-personalization, weighed against security risk and data protection needs

FleishmanHillard’s “Darlings to Damaged?” report includes qualitative and quantitative data. FleishmanHillard TRUE Global Intelligence conducted a survey among a nationally representative sample of 1,002 adults each in the U.S. and U.K., 18 years of age and older. The U.S. sample is demographically balanced for age, sex, geographic region, race and education. The U.K. sample is demographically balanced for age and sex. The surveys were fielded online in April and May of 2019.

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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