The Rise of Techlash: It’s Time to Focus on Transparency

Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce began the year warning us of the oncoming techlash – a backlash against big tech that is gaining strength from regulators and consumers alike. 2017 did mark something of a turning point in the way we think about and engage with tech – on the one hand, we’re more reliant on technology than ever and yet the spotlight on bots, fake news and misappropriation of social media for political gain, made us more mistrustful of it than ever.

And there has been some transparent soul-searching – whether from Apple investors raising concerns about children’s use of smartphones, or original iPhone designer, Tony Fadell, reminiscing to Anderson Cooper on stage:

“I worry what my grandkids are going to think. Will it be ‘He’s the guy that destroyed society?’”

I admire his transparency but I tend to think he’s beating himself up a little too much. There’s a real risk of the industry talking itself into something here and we should, collectively, step back from the brink. Yes, Amazon, Facebook et al know a lot about us but there is a limit to what they can do with it, and the value that technology has delivered to us as consumers, as individuals, as society will continue to vastly outweigh the threats as long as Governments and regulatory bodies remain.

Ironically enough, the real losers of any techlash won’t be the big established players, their entrenchment in our collective psyche plus long term growth strategies will ensure they ride the predicted wave. Smaller, innovative start ups with new perspectives and technologies are much more likely to be caught up in any negativity. We owe it to them not to allow ourselves to be carried away by the chatter and instead focus on building responsible and transparent business models and initiatives.

Nowhere is this more true than in the world of digital advertising. In an age where one misstep can cause irreparable damage to long-term brand equity and short-term sales targets, the responsibility is on us to caretake our clients’ brands. We must collectively subscribe to the highest standards when it comes to data security and privacy and hold ourselves accountable. Data security, accuracy and fraud are particularly prevalent issues in the digital advertising space and to ignore them is to effectively resign ourselves to some from of backlash when the worst inevitably happens.

The rise in uneasiness about tech addiction is top of mind for lawmakers, major tech shareholders and brands alike. 2018 has already seen a raft of initiatives such as the Center for Humane Technology or the Time Well Spent movement launched, each speaking to an appetite to move ‘Big Tech’ away from solely measuring comments and shares to emphasizing positive contributions to users’ lives. It’s a lesson we should all keep in mind as the conversation continues throughout the year, We all have an obligation to make sure content is appropriate, relevant and timely – we must continue to be a help and not a hindrance to users.

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