A roadmap for regaining public trust in the tech sector

Representaion of IT in the form of a grid of binary code
(Image credit: Shutterstock / carlos castilla)

Faith in the tech industry — the private sector’s unchallenged trust leader since at least 2000 —has declined for two years straight, even as tech adoption has accelerated. The steepest decline was in the United States, where tech went from being the most trusted industry to barely remaining in the top 10. The reasons why are varied and interconnected. Ultimately, though, it comes down to the fact that technology is embedded in every aspect of our lives. As a result, tech companies are entrenched in very high-stakes personal and social issues, including climate change, human rights, privacy, anti-trust efforts and the spread of misinformation.

About the author

Christoph Schell is the Chief Commercial Officer of HP, Inc.

The decline in trust isn’t a problem companies can innovate their way out of. For the tech industry to regain the trust advantage, we must be willing to transform, letting go of long-held assumptions and embracing a new set of values and responsibilities.

A new model of transparency

In technology, we are accustomed to inserting complex systems behind user-friendly interfaces. But concerns about data security, privacy and tracking now oblige us to show users what’s happening under the hood. Similarly, we can empower users to make informed decisions with a combination of transparency and education. For instance, we need to bring data information out of the fine print and into plain language, giving users an intelligible picture of how their information is being used to enhance their experience and how it is being secured.

We also know that people are increasingly concerned with the social, environmental, and political effects of their consumption. Reversing the decline in trust, then, is not simply a matter of instilling faith in the quality and safety of the tech products and services they use. We need to win back trust across the broader tech ecosystem. Like every other industry, tech needs to be honest about the larger impact of our operations, from supply chains to labor practices to corporate governance. In fact, the need is even more urgent in tech because of the public’s perception of the industry’s outsize influence.

Bridging the digital divide

The tech industry once hoped that our innovations alone would empower the global population, raising the standard of living for everyone. But innovation only gets us halfway there. Inequitable access can turn innovation from an agent of progress into a symbol of inequality.

Consider the video calls many of us have become so dependent on for workplace continuity over the past 18 months. In countless communities around the globe where internet is available, access to high-quality devices and the requisite network strength for video conferencing to be effective still doesn’t exist or isn’t common.

As digital technology has become more powerful, inequitable access to it exacerbates economic, political, and social inequality. Tech companies need to be at the forefront of efforts to bridge the digital divide, making meaningful, long-term investments in bringing access to technologically disadvantaged populations. If we can bridge the divide, technology can become the empowering, equalizing force it should be and rightly earn the trust of the global population.

Taking a service approach

Trust is built over time, through repeated interactions and experiences. The more the technology industry embraces subscription and service models, the more we gain the opportunity for frequent positive interactions with customers. We can assist them when a product isn’t performing as it should and preempt costly and frustrating disruptions to their lives with always-on support and device maintenance. We can tailor solutions to them, individually, rather than assuming that one-size-fits-all. A services mentality is really a return to what our industry was built on—amazing experiences that change people’s lives for the better.

Tech’s long-held values have brought great success. But that success has altered the brief. Our industry will play a pivotal role in defining the future of work, politics, human rights, and humankind’s ability to live on the planet. We can’t act as if we’re simply visionary disrupters releasing our innovations without a second thought. We are stewards of the future. Regaining the public’s trust will depend on our recognition of that expanded role—and our acceptance of the responsibilities that come with it.

Christoph Schell is the Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) of HP, Inc. In this role, Christoph is accountable for all aspects of sales, go-to-market and revenue and margin generation globally.