Is the Techlash real? | Brunswick Group

Is the Techlash Real?

An exploration of attitudes towards Big Tech among American and European consumers

In recent years, Europe and the U.S. have heard growing criticisms of technology companies, from regulators, media and consumers alike.

So much so, that the term “Techlash”—the idea of growing hostility toward big tech companies— was made “Word of the Year” by the FT in December 2018 and is now regularly used by media and politicians.  

Knowing the global implications this debate has, Brunswick wanted to understand: Is the Techlash real? For two years in a row, we have been running a study among Informed Consumers in the U.S. and EU, those who read news regularly from at least three different sources across print, broadcast and digital media channels.

The study enabled us to learn what Americans and Europeans think about the tech industry, what regulatory expectations they have of the industry, and what they want policy makers to do about it.

Both U.S. and EU consumers continue have a positive opinion of technology companies and view them as a positive force in society. However, their views towards social media companies are more mixed: only 1 in 2 consumers say they have a positive opinion of these companies. Yet, social media usage continues to increase year-on-year in both geographies.

Despite positive views of technology and the growing usage of specific platforms, consumers want more regulation.

In our latest survey, 73% of Europeans and 63% of Americans agreed that their government “should be more active in regulating technology companies”—but what that means looks slightly different to these two audiences. Americans ranked “protecting your personal data privacy” as significantly higher than other priorities, while Europeans weighed various issues more equally across the board and ranked “using technology to solve environmental and health challenges” as most important.

Another major difference between the two geographies is the license granted to tech companies to address these issues: U.S. consumers trust tech companies to address their concerns more than EU consumers, who are more likely to trust the EU or individual Member State governments to find a solution.

Content issues are top of mind, and consumers support holding companies responsible.

A large majority of both Americans (79%) and Europeans (74%) agree that “social media companies should be held legally responsible for allowing false or misleading content on their platforms,” and almost just as many (67% of Americans and 70% of Europeans) believe that social media companies should actively edit or remove fake news from their online platforms so users can know what information is accurate.

Both audiences are also increasingly open to more aggressive proposals: 53% of Americans and 46% of Europeans believe social media platforms should be managed by democratically-elected governments rather than corporations.

Antitrust concerns are rising as more consumers in both the U.S. and EU believe that tech companies are limiting competition.

Fifty-four percent of Americans and 46% of Europeans agree that tech companies have grown too large and should be broken up, while 49% of Americans and 47% of Europeans believe that tech companies have been more likely to limit competition by using their size and market share to exclude new companies from competing on fair terms.

So, what’s next?

Consumers don’t want to give up the benefits of technology but are looking to regulators and politicians to take action.

Consumers’ continued love for the products and services does not negate a deep-seated sense of discomfort with the size and power of tech companies in our societies, as well as a sense of loss of control. There is strong support for regulation in both geographies and across a wide number of tech issues. Yet, the devil will be in the details, and finding a consensus on the specific contours of tech regulation will likely prove difficult.


This study was conducted in 14 Member States in the EU (Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and the UK) among a sample of n=2,183, as well as in the U.S. among a sample of n=1,038 from September 18 through September 18 through 30, 2019.


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