‘Major trust deficit’ for tech firms

Technology firms have a “major trust deficit” to overcome on data protection – and politicians must do more to protect people against the changes that technology is bringing, a new UK public opinion survey finds. Julian Blake reports.

The Opinium survey, commissioned by the Demos think tank, reveals widespread concern that the benefits of tech innovation will not be shared across society – with a belief that government and tech firms should do more to mitigate “socially harmful consequences”.

jamiebartlettReporting on the survey in Demos Quarterly, Jamie Bartlett, director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, describes the public mood on tech as “concerned optimism”, with people generally upbeat about its effects, but also worried about the downsides.

The survey shows widespread mistrust of social media companies’ handling of people’s personal information. Only one in 10 people (11%) are comfortable with sharing their personal information with social media companies. That trust is far greater when it comes to the state, with 60% comfortable about sharing data with government.

“Tech firms have a major trust deficit which they need to address, especially given a growing volume of personal information is likely to be created in the future,” writes Bartlett.

In another indicator of low public trust, fewer than one in four accept that tech companies are devoting enough resources to removing extremist content from their platforms. The British public is “clearly worried about the socially harmful consequences of technology”, the survey finds, with key concerns including extremism (89%), cybercrime (86%), online abuse (70%) and fake news (67%).

The survey shows that most people want politicians to do more to protect people against the changes that technology is bringing – with nearly seven in 10 (69%) believing that MPs are taking insufficient action to safeguard the public from the challenges ahead.

“Citizens believe both the government and technology companies should do more to protect society from these harmful consequences and mitigate future risks from the next wave of technological revolution,” writes Bartlett.

The survey also shows widespread concern that the benefits of technology innovation will not be felt by everyone, with more than half (54%) believing its benefits will not be shared evenly across society. Young people are more than twice as likely to believe the benefits will be shared.

demossurveyOn future jobs, 35% feel their job is at risk from artificial intelligence, with Londoners generally more worried than the rest of the country.

The survey overall shows that half the UK population is optimistic about technology and the benefits it could bring to society and the economy, with just one in 10 seeing it as more threat than opportunity.

“It is encouraging that so many people remain positive about the role technology will play in society,” Bartlett concludes. “To maintain that enthusiasm, it is important that both technology firms and government do more – and are seen to be doing more – to smooth over the inevitable challenges that fast-paced change always creates.

“Otherwise, these concerns might be translated into hostility, and the benefits of the tech revolution could be lost to everyone.”

The Demos findings on trust were backed by a separate ‘joytech’ survey, also published last week. Its online survey found trust levels of below 10% for Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook, with just 3% of respondents agreeing that Facebook is “trustworthy and supportive of its customers”.

80% of respondents were somewhat or very concerned about large companies having access to and using personal data, with 79% believing people need protection. But 64% felt that the government or lawmakers were “incapable of protecting consumers from the large internet companies”.

Polling for Demos by Opinium Research took place from 6-9 October 2017, with online interviews completed by 2,003 UK adults.