Feb 25, 2020 - Technology

Exclusive: Global trust in the tech industry is slipping

Illustration of tech's trust gap

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The backlash against Big Tech has long flourished among pundits and policymakers, but a new survey suggests it's beginning to show up in popular opinion as well.

Driving the news: New data from Edelman out Tuesday finds that trust in tech companies is declining and that people trust cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence less than they do the industry overall.

Why it matters: The Edelman study finds people favor more regulation of industries and technologies that they distrust. Rising public support for regulation could move policymakers from talk to action.

Details: Edelman's 2020 Trust Barometer found that while tech still enjoys high levels of trust globally, its approval rating fell four points between 2019 and 2020.

  • Trust in tech declined in 19 of 26 markets including the U.S., U.K., Germany and France. It rose five points in South Korea and saw more modest gains in Japan, Spain, Malaysia and India, while holding steady in Kenya and Thailand.
  • In 2012, the tech sector was rated trustworthy by 77% of respondents, compared to 47% for business in general, a 30-point gap. This year, that gap is just 18 percentage points, as trust in overall business has risen and that in the tech industry has fallen.
  • 40% of respondents in the U.S. and 44% globally believe AI needs more regulation.

What they're saying: "The trend of eroding trust in the technology sector continues," said Sanjay Nair, global technology chair of Edelman.

  • "The trust decline may be small, but it is reflective of consistent concerns that technology companies are not adequately preparing society for the impact of their products."

Between the lines: Trust is higher for many sectors broadly than it is for the leading-edge technology within a field. Far more people trust the tech industry broadly than AI specifically.

  • Similarly, more trust the food and beverage industry overall than cell-cultured meats and gene editing.

The big picture: Two studies from Pew Research also show the impact of declining trust.

  • According to one released on Monday, relatively few Americans trust big tech companies to keep elections safe.
  • Nearly three quarters of those surveyed by Pew in January said they had little or no confidence in technology companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to prevent their platforms from being misused in this year's U.S. presidential election.
  • Pew also found that a plurality of tech experts believe advances in technology over the next decade will erode trust and harm democracy, compared to those who believe advances will have a neutral or positive effect on democracy.

Yes, but: Technology is still one of the most trusted sectors, despite recent erosion. Such was the case overall for the Edelman study, although a record 13 markets had higher trust in a sector other than technology.

Go deeper: The "ominous" decline of democracy around the world

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