Has COVID-19 Impacted the Techlash?

Technology has played a critical—and debatably helpful—role during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving us to wonder: Is this the end of the techlash?

As part of our ongoing research into consumer attitudes toward the tech sector, Brunswick Group surveyed 2,600 informed consumers in France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, the United Kingdom and the U.S. to better understand if opinions have actually changed as a result of the pandemic. The study showed how Americans and Europeans are thinking about the tech industry throughout this global crisis and if this has shifted their regulatory expectations of the industry. 

Consumers commend technology companies for their COVID-19 response

Consumers are aware of the contributions technology companies have made towards the COVID-19 response and applaud their efforts to contain the virus, improve the economy, and make remote working easier.

In fact, 60% of Americans and 41% of Europeans say their perceptions of the sector have improved since the beginning of the crisis. More than three in four respondents in both geographies believe technology companies have responded well to the COVID-19 outbreak, second only to healthcare companies. Even a majority of those who have a negative overall opinion of technology companies concede that big tech has responded well to the COVID outbreak.

70% of Americans and 65% of Europeans agree that “technology companies have used their size and influence for good in the fight against COVID-19.”

Despite this, there have not been large shifts in overall, long-term sentiment towards technology companies in our society 

While consumers mentioned their opinions of tech companies have improved in the COVID-19 response, there is no impact on overall sentiment towards the sector. This indicates that the COVID-19 response has cemented pre-COVID-19 attitudes or only made modest impact on overall views.

We tested this alongside other sectors and saw that while perception of other industries has been impacted by COVID-19, tech is unchanged. For example, perception of e-commerce retailers has dropped by 15-points while pharmaceutical sector has seen 13-point bump.

Consumer desire for more active tech regulation is not diminished by the goodwill generated from the COVID-19 response

Tech’s COVID-19 response has done little to stop the calls for more tech regulation even though consumers commend technology companies for their COVID-19 response. 77% of Americans and 72% of Europeans agree that “the US/EU government should be more active in regulating technology companies.” While this sentiment has largely remained the same in Europe since our first round of research in 2018, it has grown significantly in the U.S. since 2018, increasing by 14-points.

Among those who agree with establishing more tech regulation, 70% of consumers in the U.S. and 63% in the EU still believe “technology companies have used their size and influence for good in the fight against COVID-19.” This indicates that consumer expectations for additional regulation are unlikely to reverse in the near future.

Using technology to address COVID-19 is the most important issue facing tech. ranked first by both U.S. and European respondents, more so than personal data and privacy, cyber-attacks, fake news, or job creation. However, consumers are less likely to trust tech companies than government to come up with a working solution. This highlights how technology companies can be positive force through the products and solutions they develop, but there is limited trust in these companies to act responsibly.

So, what’s next?
 

Big tech should brace itself for a post-COVID-19 regulatory environment 

Despite having built goodwill, consumers are still eager for tech regulation. There has been a continued increase in support for more active regulation of technology companies since 2018. That support extends to specific policy proposals on content moderation, antitrust, and political bias. Tech regulation is not top-of-mind for many consumers at the moment, but the lack of trust in the tech sector around personal data and information sharing continues to bolster support for regulation. 

While the value and services provided by technology companies are appreciated by consumers, COVID-19 is not minimizing the techlash, it is simply pausing it to focus on other issues. 

Methodology 

This study was conducted in six countries in Europe (France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, and the United Kingdom) among a sample of n=1,560, as well as in the U.S. among a sample of n=1,091 from May 18 through 28, 2020. 

See the full report.

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