Americans Losing Trust in Tech Industry

Americans trust tech companies less, according to data from the Pew Research Center. That has potentially big implications for tech firms of all sizes, from giants such as Google all the way down to tiny startups.

Four years ago, some 71 percent of Americans thought that tech companies had a positive impact on the United States; that number has now plunged to 50 percent. Over that same period, negative views of tech firms has climbed from 17 percent to 33 percent.

There’s also a political element to all this. “The gap between Democrats and Republicans is relatively modest when it comes to technology companies,” Pew reports. “Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are 10 percentage points more likely than Republicans and GOP leaners to say these firms have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country (54 percent vs. 44 percent).”

Other surveys have also confirmed this rising negativity. In May, for instance, we asked readers whether they trusted Facebook in the wake of the social network’s massive data scandals (such as Cambridge Analytica). A full 86 percent of respondents told us that they did not trust Facebook.

In another survey earlier this year, we asked if the big tech companies should be broken up (which you can take as a barometer of negative or positive sentiment toward tech’s largest firms). Some 44.2 percent said that all large tech companies should be broken into smaller entities.

This is a pretty big deal for tech professionals, because widespread negative sentiment toward tech companies obviously makes it harder to get many things done. For example, if you build an app that requires a user to give up their personal data for optimal service, they might be less inclined to do so, given the generalized worries about how the tech industry handles folks’ information.

Pew has also shown that Americans distrust particular tech products. Last year, the organization conducted a survey in which 80 percent of respondents said they had a negative impression of chatbots; another 17 percent said bots are used for “good purposes.” Only slightly more than half (53 percent) said they were fine with bots being used to answer customer-service inquiries.

Earning (and Losing) Trust

For tech professionals trying to build apps and services, what’s the solution here? It’s complicated, but “transparency” is usually a good tactic to take. Whenever you roll out a new feature of some sort, make sure that the consumer-facing documentation (whether a pop-up window, FAQ, or website) explains clearly what’s going on and what kind of data is being collected/used. And if consumer sentiment turns against you, make sure to pivot and adjust as quickly as possible. It’s very easy to lose trust… and extremely hard to earn it back.