No matter how you phrase it, Californians are increasingly convinced that the tech industry needs government intervention.
Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer survey, released Wednesday, found that 58 percent of Californians think the tech industry should be “more regulated,” up from 46 percent in 2018. An even larger group, 68 percent think the tech industry has been “under-regulated,” rather than “over-regulated,” up from 62 percent in 2018 and about 59 percent in 2017.
One clear sign of how far some sectors of tech have fallen: More respondents said they had a high level of trust in marijuana dispensaries and growers—44 percent and 43 percent, respectively—than in social media—33 percent. For “tech” as a whole, 61 percent of respondents said they had a high level of trust that the industry would do what’s right. For “startup companies” and “the sharing economy,” the figures were similar to the pot industry—47 percent of respondents said they trusted companies in those sectors to do the right thing.
For the first time, Edelman, a public relations firm, also polled roughly 400 Bay Area tech workers, who shared the same concerns as 1,500 California residents who participated in the general survey.
Roughly 69 percent of tech workers in the Bay Area said that their industry had been under-regulated rather than over-regulated. Among employees, privacy and security were the top worries. Of 11 possible concerns about the tech industry—from increasing housing costs, to income inequality, to a possible tech bubble collapse—57 percent of workers said their primary concern was “failure to protect from data security threats,” tied with “lack of privacy/my data is shared too much.”
Apprehensions aside, however, the results seemed to indicate that tech employees still had faith in their leaders, especially compared with other industries. Seventy-eight percent of tech workers listed their employer as a highly trusted institution, whereas 55 percent of tech workers had the same level of trust in media and 48 percent of techies had the same trust in government.
The Bay Area tech workers also reported an overwhelming faith in the industry’s promise, with 92 percent agreeing that the tech industry is good at what it does and 74 percent agreeing that in the long run, technology will create more jobs than it kills. Based on the results, Edelman advised companies to empower their workers as ambassadors for the industry.
Edelman didn’t ask residents how they felt about regulating the cannabis industry, but some Californians have blamed strict rules around taxes and growing for lower sales. Roughly $2.5 billion of legal cannabis was sold in 2018, or half a billion dollars less than 2017, when only medical marijuana was legal.
However, when it came to businesses in general, the residents surveyed by Edelman were largely convinced that companies could afford to do more for their communities. Sixty-three percent of respondents agreed that business “make large profits while draining our local resources and straining our infrastructure,” and that they owe it to the public to solve local problems. Sixty-nine percent agreed that a company could take “specific actions that both increase profits and improves the economic and social conditions in the communities where it operates.”
Meanwhile, expectations for tech industry leaders are rising. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said tech leaders should be doing more to improve California. Given the industry’s outsized impact, 81 percent said tech should do more to improve local issues, up from 75 percent in 2018 and 76 percent said ech leaders are obligated to do more on societal issues, up from 71 percent last year.
When it comes to Big Tech, California regulators have focused more on the potential harms that social media poses to internet users, privacy, and democracy, than the harm to cities where these companies live.