Workers on gig-economy platforms are protesting, Washington DC and Brussels are cracking down on Apple and Google, and the Chinese government is intent on curbing the influence of its technology firms. But a new survey shows that people trust the tech industry more than any other—even more than healthcare, the sector the world has relied on most heavily during the pandemic.
The survey, part of the Edelman Trust Barometer report (pdf) for 2022, asked around 15,000 people around the world to score sectors, on a nine-point scale according to how much they trusted industries “to do what is right.” The tech sector earned a trust score of 74%, a four-point jump from last year. Most other industries registered a rise in trust as well. Social media, though, fell by two points, earning a score of just 44%.
Edelman’s report doesn’t define technology for the purposes of this survey. It doesn’t, for instance, clarify if a firm like Meta (née Facebook) counts as a tech firm or a social media firm, or if Amazon is a tech company as well as a retailer, or if Netflix—the “N” in the FAANG group of tech stocks—falls under tech or entertainment, or if the trading app Robinhood is a financial services firm. That ambiguity, in itself, is perhaps a reminder of how nearly every industry is in some way a tech industry today.
What happened to the techlash?
The findings go against the grain of reports of an ongoing “techlash”—a wave of hostility to technology, its numerous breaches of privacy and security, and its disconcerting pace of disruptive change. And indeed, Edelman’s barometer had tracked a near-consistent erosion of trust in tech between 2012 and 2020. Other polls had revealed a similar deterioration in trust. In November, for example, a Washington Post survey (pdf) of more than a thousand adults showed that 64% of respondents wanted more government regulation of internet companies.
Edelman’s newest numbers suggest that tech has perhaps benefited from an overall rise in trust across sectors. But the bump may also hint at an ongoing legacy of the pandemic—a period in which technology has proven even more indispensable to our lives than we previously reckoned. The products of the tech industry—video-conferencing, say, or delivery-by-app, or a bounty of streaming services—may have earned a measure of trust for solving the problems thrown up by the pandemic.