The Covid-19 pandemic ensured technology became a deeper and more integral part of people’s lives across the world, but especially so in the USA, the global headquarters of Big Tech. Now, findings of the second wave of the American Institutional Confidence (AIC) poll show that the pandemic-era increase in technological reliance affected people’s view of technology itself. This, as a recent paper by US-based data analytics, social media, and governance experts Sean Kates, Jonathan Ladd, and Joshua A.
Tucker iterates, is a critical issue as public opinion can ultimately sway technology policy, either by increasing demand for new innovations and support of public-private relationships on one hand, or by calling for increased regulation and oversight on the other. Over the past five years, the scholars have conducted a study on public confidence in American institutions to address such issues.
The AIC is a nationally representative panel survey asking respondents about their confidence in different institutions. In response to questions about how individuals feel about technology’s role in their life and their confidence in particular tech companies, the poll shows a “marked decrease in the confidence Americans profess for technology and, specifically, tech companies” which is greater and more widespread than for any other type of institution. The AIC results relied on a two-wave panel survey in which the same respondents were interviewed twice: First, pre-Covid in June and July 2018, and then through July-October 2021. Both polls were conducted by YouGov and the results of both the polling exercises were weighted to match the US Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey on key variables.
To represent Big Tech, the scholars chose three companies that are leaders in the use of different types of technologies and are well-known enough that many people would have a meaningful opinion about them. The tech companies chosen were Amazon, Google and Facebook, all dominant in their respective fields viz retail, search engine, and social media. The average level of confidence in every tech company had dropped precipitously by 2021. In fact, technology companies have experienced the steepest drops over the past five years when compared to all other institutions.
The AIC poll results reaffirm the findings of multiple polling organisations that the public’s support for and trust in the technology industry is slipping badly. In this phenomenon lies an opportunity for those understandably concerned by the unaccountable power wielded by Big Tech, not only in America but also the rest of the world including developing countries such as India, to put in place reasonable, national jurisdiction regulations to prevent mega digital platforms from becoming a global supra state. As it is, Big Tech has been using a veritable legion of lobbyists and lawyers to claim it is providing a public service to escape sovereign oversight. It has become increasingly clear that service ranks well below profit in the scheme of things. Escaping oversight ought not to be acceptable in any democracy.