Before the pandemic, a backlash was building towards the companies of Silicon Valley. The so-called ‘techlash’ is a culmination of criticism towards the big tech companies focusing on anti-trust challenges and privacy violations. Scandals such as that of Cambridge Analytica or Donald’s Trump 2016 presidential campaign shed light on the inadequate safeguards against data harvesting on Facebook and created rising support for more regulations.
However, as the world focused on the pandemic, criticism towards tech companies became more fragmented. Is the techlash another victim of 2020?
More people than ever now rely on technology to stay connected. Trips to the pub are now Zoom quizzes, and catchups are Facebook statuses. The pandemic has led to more people using technology to keep connected throughout, and this has given tech companies breathing space from criticism. What we are witnessing has been recorded far and wide as a crisis of trust. Tech is now integrated into each and every aspect of our lives, but with reliability and consumer trust consistently wavering, the ‘techlash’ looks set to continue.
Pre-pandemic tech firms were being presented as exploiters of the public – or perhaps more specifically, human data. But now there is the argument whereby they could be viewed as virtual lifeboats. Facebook and Twitter have both been applauded for their distribution of information relating to COVID-19. Even tech billionaires are stepping up and doing good. Bill Gates promised billions of dollars to fund the construction of facilities to research a vaccine, and Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, pledged $1bn to fund coronavirus research.
Despite privacy violations being a primary focus of the techlash, the pandemic has caused a shift in how regulars think data should be governed. When Apple and Google launched their COVID-19 tracking protocol, it received criticism not because it did too little to protect individual privacy, but too much.
However, while we all may enjoy using technology to keep us entertained through lockdowns, the problems founding the techlash have not gone away. Facebook may help communities stay connected, but it also helps spread misinformation such as fake news about vaccinations. Zoom has also been the recipient of privacy and harassment complaints, and many online sites have been used to encourage inflammatory content. Tech companies continue to make decisions to profit at the expense of the user’s mental health, and despite privacy issues they prioritise an ad-based model that requires surveillance.
Indeed, long-term sentiment towards big tech companies remains the same, and consumers feel powerless at holding them to account. Although addressing tech regulation is not currently a top priority, 77 per cent of Americans still believe the US government should be more active in regulating tech companies. The problems facing tech companies have not gone away and need to be addressed once the pandemic is over.
Technology is now more entrenched than ever in our society, and big tech companies need to be kept accountable. The pandemic may have led to a slight pause in the techlash, but it is poised and ready to begin once the current crisis is over. What do you think the response from these tech giants should be?