The World Economic Forum is underway in its Swiss home of Davos. And the event, which is marked by its star-studded attendees from the worlds of business and politics, has provided some of the tech industry’s leading lights with a chance to push back on fears they are no longer good for the public. Some have even pushed for regulation – something almost unthinkable a matter of months previously.
Among the Silicon Valley CEOs showing contrition was new Uber chief Dara Khosrowshahi, who told a panel entitled “In Technology We Trust?” that the ride-hail firm must “go forward as a company that does the right thing.”
It was part of an ongoing campaign by Khosrowshahi, formerly of Expedia, to erase the tainted memory of Uber founder Travis Kalanick, under whom the company became mired in scandals of sexism, tech vandalism and driver pay. Those episodes have sparked a cultural change that, while “painful”, will prove to be “incredibly positive.”
Tech powerhouses from Apple and Amazon to Google, Microsoft and Facebook have battled increasing public antipathy in the past year, as the results of data, tax and democratic shifts have become clear. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has sounded considerable concern, writing (on Facebook) this month that, “The world feels anxious and divided, and Facebook has a lot of work to do.”
Zuckerberg has not yet addressed the Davos crowd, which is known for its lavish, billionaire-laden parties almost 5,000 feet above ground level in the Swiss Alps. Mark Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, told an audience that tech firms need to prioritize trust over their bottom lines – and even suggested the answer could be more regulation.
“In the tech industry, we have been clear of those regulations for the entire lifespan of the industry and we are seeing signs, especially this year, especially with the elections, especially with social networks, and especially when you see CEOs who abdicate their responsibility and say ‘I didn’t know,'” he said.
“The signs are pointing to more regulation,” he added. Google remained quiet on the issue. Khosrowshahi agreed.