Tech’s image overhaul
The key message two of the biggest tech companies in the world want to share this week is that they care and can be trusted.
“We need to ask ourselves not only what computers can do but what computers should do,” said Satya Nadella as he positions Microsoft as a company that cares about A.I. ethics and user privacy. Meanwhile, Google is reportedly set to unveil new Android controls “oriented around helping individuals and families manage the time they spend on mobile devices.”
The shift in narrative around technology in the past couple of years has seen the stereotypical tech blogger switch from being an enthusiastic cheerleader to a stoney-faced cynic. And politicians are paying more attention to tech. Scrutiny is increasing. So, it’s no surprise that tech CEOs feel the need to swim with the tide.
The question is, how serious are they taking this? A few extra user settings or a white paper on the dangers of A.I. might help shift the media narrative or keep the politicians at bay, but if ‘big tech’ is still all about massive data collection to fuel adtech that normal people can’t understand and optimising apps to get people to spend as much time as possible immersed in them, the core concerns of critics will remain.
Those concerns can’t be addressed with a few press briefings or a slightly different marketing message – they run deep to the core of how much of the tech industry works.
If the give-and-take in the bargain between consumer tech companies and the public isn’t a fair deal, the problems will linger on and come back later in a bigger and harder-to-tackle form.