Earlier this week, at the World Economic Forum’s confab in Davos, Edelman took the wraps off the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer. The study of more than 31,000 people in 26 countries is now in its thirteenth consecutive year. Once again, the survey reveals that Technology is the most trusted sector on the planet, with 77 percent of respondents saying they trust tech companies to do what’s right.
In Tech We Trust
There are of course several theories on why the technology sector consistently scores so high. My colleague Ben Boyd, global chair of Edelman’s Corporate practice, believes respondents view the industry as future-focused, with “competitively priced products that improve the quality of people’s lives.” That sounds reasonable enough. Technology makes us more productive, helps us stay connected to friends and family, entertains us and generally improves the quality of our lives. What’s not to like?
Technology is also widely viewed as key to solving some of our most vexing societal issues. An Edelman study on sustainable technologies found that 76 percent of consumers in eight markets were “confident” or “somewhat confident” that the tech sector can provide long-term solutions to meet the world’s toughest challenges. Chinese consumers were particularly optimistic, with an astounding 97 percent of respondents signaling confidence in tech.
The public’s confidence seems to be well-placed. Take the environment, for example. Clean tech companies are finding ways to bring renewable energy to the masses, while major players like GE* and Qualcomm* are innovating ways to make our delivery infrastructure (“the grid”) substantially more efficient. Cloud computing initiatives by Microsoft*, EMC* and others promise to help enterprise customers reduce energy consumption and save money. Again, what’s not to like?
Trust Leads to More Trust
The Edelman Trust Barometer shows that our trust in technology is in fact growing deeper over time, despite a statistically insignificant year-on-year decline of two points. Since 1999, trust in tech has increased by more than 10 percent overall. One explanation is that technology is simply benefiting from missteps in other industries such as financial services and automotive. Fair enough.
But a more optimistic view suggests that the tech industry is constantly reinforcing positive stakeholder perceptions, which in turn leads to stakeholders entrusting the industry with more responsibility. Ten years ago, online banking and e-commerce were just starting to gain traction. Many consumers resisted the idea of sharing credit card information online and were skeptical that the goods they ordered would actually arrive as advertised. Industry leaders like Amazon, eBay*, PayPal* and others addressed these barriers through both technology innovations like sophisticated encryption solutions, and of course their own corporate behaviors including strict policies fiercely protecting their customers’ personally identifiable information. Each pair of shoes, each gadget and each book that arrives on time and without incident serves to slowly build and reinforce trust.
Fast forward ten years: the amount of information that society entrusts to the technology sector is staggering. Financial records, health records, corporate intellectual property and precious personal property like digital photo and music collections are all stored digitally. Last year, we created 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data per day. And increasingly, this data isn’t stored locally on corporate servers or home hard drives. It exists “in the cloud” meaning the owners of the data have entrusted a 3rd party to protect their digital assets. Again, the safe handling of this data (and the rich, personalized experiences that analysis of this data enables) reinforces our trust in the tech sector over time.
We Trust Because We Must
For most of us, trust in technology is fundamental to our lifestyles. We trust because we must; the alternative is unacceptable regression to the Luddite lifestyle of yesteryear.
The same principle seems to apply in business and the public sector as well. Corporations and governments have become wholly dependent on being able to store, access, parse, index and analyze vast amounts of data quickly. As a practical matter, the quaint tools of our business past – hard copy records, paper correspondence, hand-written ledger books – are simply not economically or competitively viable. We trust because we must.
The good news is that is that the tech industry has for the most part kept its part of the bargain. Yes there have been some very public incidents ranging from malware outbreaks to connectivity outages, but the industry has been quick to respond with remedies that restore public confidence.
Knocking Tech off The Top
The tech sector has earned its place at the top of Edelman’s Trust Barometer by being innovative, transparent and reliable stewards of our personal information. And we’ve responded by buying more kit, sharing more data and further embracing all things tech. It’s a seemingly virtuous cycle. But the cycle prompts the very obvious question: would trust in the tech sector plummet in the face of a widespread data incident? We think so. And we think the risk is very real indeed. My colleague Leigh Nakanishi will blog about these risks and how companies can mitigate them in part of two of this series.
In the meantime, all of us in tech can take a moment to celebrate the fact that our beloved industry is once again atop the league tables in trust.
Pete Pedersen is the former global chair of Edelman’s Technology practice.
*eBay, PayPal, Microsoft, EMC, Qualcomm and GE are Edelman clients