Tech creates controversy in the halls of power, but how does the public feel?

By Julie Samuels | May 24, 2021

Anyone following the news in recent years has seen several articles telling the same story: the tech industry is under fire because it has credibility problems with the public. But the data show that things aren’t so simple.

Polling routinely demonstrates that most people hold favorable views of the tech sector, despite cable news chyrons or strongly worded Tweets. Morning Consult’s latest list of the most trusted brands is headlined by firms like Google, PayPal, Microsoft, YouTube, and Amazon. In fact, all but two of the top ten brands are ones that fall under the conventional definition of a tech company.

Other figures paint a similar picture. The Harris Poll’s newest corporate reputation rankings feature several tech businesses, with over 70% scoring “very good” or “good” marks with the American people. This at a time when companies increasingly face greater scrutiny from regulators, activist investors, and concerned customers.

Perceptions of the tech sector go beyond things like brand trust or company reputation, and for good reason. People also care about the industry’s relationship with the outside world, which is why JUST Capital releases annual company rankings based on what the public most expects from good companies.

Those priorities include environmental policies, supply chain ethics, competitive wages, diversity, and pay equity. Here again tech firms do well, earning great scores from the public as a result.

National metrics are one thing, but my organization is focused on New York. Here too the tech sector is viewed as a force for good. Our latest polling of likely Democratic voters shows that 57% of respondents see the industry as having a positive effect on the city (only 9% see it negatively). The same data also ranks tech as one of the most important sectors for NYC’s future.

There’s a lot one can say about these numbers, but clearly there’s a divide between elite opinion and the views of everyday individuals on the topic of tech. Not only do people find tech companies useful and trustworthy, but they also see them as valuable to their economies and communities.

The reasons for this are simple. While tech will inevitably continue to attract scrutiny (some valid and some manufactured), most of us still realize that it provides immense help to our lives. From education and work to mental health, entertainment, and family time, today’s most innovative and beneficial products disproportionately come from one sector.

This explains why tech companies continue to experience remarkable growth. It also explains why so many of the fastest growing career fields are in demand at those companies — a fact that shouldn’t be lost on lawmakers as the economy rebounds.

In addition to designing good products, tech companies have also committed to being good global citizens, and word is getting out. Many of the companies I work with have taken the lead in making education and upskilling more accessible, but they’ve also played a role in everything from contact tracing to transportation for the vulnerable. The tech sector has successfully driven revitalization efforts in Rust Belt cities, and made itself a resource in the effort to expand computer science curriculums.

These undertakings are partly core to their missions: tech firms genuinely want to solve problems and make positive contributions to the world. But they’re also self-interested: any company is better off when its consumers and communities succeed.

To be clear, tech companies aren’t perfect. And here in New York, like across the rest of the world, we need to grapple with how these entities and their technology impact our society. This might look like new regulations in evolving fields, or making sure companies build with more community benefits in mind. But most people are practical, and capable of having two thoughts at the same time.

Those thoughts can be summarized succinctly: although tech will continue to experience growing pains, it undoubtedly offers very good things for consumers and communities. Headlines and hashtags might suggest that tech has fallen out of favor with the masses, but some data and a little common sense show that most of us are fans of what it provides.

Julie Samuels is the founder and executive director of Tech:NYC.