British public’s trust in tech is wavering

A woman poses holding a smartphone showing the app for the Uber taxi service in London on September 22, 2017.

DANIEL Leal-Olivas | AFP | Getty Images

The image of Silicon Valley has been tarnished by scandal after scandal over the past decade and now the British public has less confidence in the tech sector than ever, according to a report released Monday by think tank Doteveryone.

The study – titled “People Power and Technology: The 2020 Digital Attitudes Report“And based on the responses of 2,000 members of the British public – found that only 19% of Britons believe that technology companies design their products and services in the best interest of citizens.

In December 2017, when Doteveryone ran the first version of the study, 25% of people said that they did not feel obliged to read the terms and conditions when registering for digital platforms, because they trusted the company to do the right thing. In 2020, this figure was only 20%, which indicates that the British public has less confidence in the technology sector than before.

“I don’t trust them at all,” said a member of the public who participated in a focus group for the study. “I think they are not looking out for me, they are looking out for themselves and trying to provide everything they can to get me to give my details, pass on my details, sell my details.”

In the online survey, the majority of Britons (58%) said they thought the tech sector was too unregulated and 26% said nothing had happened after reporting something that they deemed it inappropriate.

Disturbingly, half of those surveyed said they thought being cheated or injured on the Internet was “an integral part” of the online connection, and only 50% said they were optimistic about the impact of technology on society in the future.

“Government, regulators and industry must listen to the concerns of people and act urgently to create a digital future that is good for people and the planet,” said Martha Lane Fox, founder and executive president of Doteveryone, in a press release.

Under the projectors

While the world’s largest tech companies are improving many aspects of people’s lives, their platforms are also proving to be incredibly harmful.

Barely a week goes by when Google, Uber, Facebook, Amazon, Apple are not criticized for one thing or another. Tech companies have been called upon to spread disinformation, avoid taxes, have poor work environments, create addictive platforms, pay low wages, exploit child labor, have child safety measures ineffective children, to disclose user personal data and more.

But right now, their platforms are more vital than ever.

Google is an infinite source of knowledge. Facebook keeps people in touch. Netflix entertains us. Amazon delivers almost everything to our door. Deliveroo keeps us fed and watered.

Technology is also expected to play a major role in tracking the spread of the virus across the country, with contact tracing applications to be launched in countries like Britain in the coming weeks. One is already being tested on the Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England.

“The lock is reshaping our relationship with technology and these changes will be lasting,” said Doteveryone acting CEO Catherine Miller. “It is vital that our increased dependence on technology does not take place in a vacuum of regulation and responsibility.”

Government action

The report argues that while many political ideas have been put forward, they have had little impact on people’s lives.

Doteveryone has made a number of requests to see the government create a new independent body called the Office for Responsible Technology to create regulations for the digital age.

He also wants tech companies to implement reliable and transparent design models that show how their services work and give users more meaningful control. UK regulators should apply this.

Finally, he wants tech companies to create new easy ways for users to report concerns.

Spokespeople for Google and Facebook were not immediately available when contacted by CNBC.

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