Tech leaders are starting to say they welcome regulation

It’s time to regulate tech.
It’s time to regulate tech.
Image: World Economic Forum/Faruk Pinjo
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DAVOS, Switzerland

Technology companies have gotten a free pass on regulation, and that should change said Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at a panel in Davos entitled, “In Tech We Trust.”

“The signs are pointing to more regulation,” he said.

“In the tech industry, we have been clear of those regulations for the entire lifespan of the industry and we are seeing signs, especially this year, especially with the elections, especially with social networks, and especially when you see CEOs who abdicate their responsibility and say ‘I didn’t know.'”

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi agreed. ”Where regulators can play a part is accountability,” he said, pointing to CEOs who should know what’s happening at their companies and should be removed if they don’t. ”I’d ask regulators be harsh with accountability,” with CEOs, he said.

Ruth Porat, chief financial officer for Alphabet, was notably mum on the topic, choosing instead to focus on how Google is using AI to fuel important discoveries in life sciences, and pointing out that tech companies have high trust ratings. When she was asked if Google was too big, she called it an “unanswerable question.”

Few specifics about how to regulate the industry were offered. More transparency and data sharing were suggested, with Rachel Botsman, a visiting academic at the Saïd Business School at Oxford noting that demands for transparency come when trust is low.

“You’ve given up on trust if you need transparency,” she said. “The call should not be more transparency, but we believe the intentions of these companies.”

Benioff was more more direct when it came to the importance of trust, which he said is established through culture and includes things like equal pay for men and women. “Trust has to be your highest value in your company and if it’s not, something bad is going to happen to you.”

It’s not a new subject for the outspoken Salesforce CEO. In 2015, he said “Trust is a serious problem, we have to get to a new level of transparency—only through radical transparency will we get to radical new levels of trust.”