The United States’ 2020 Presidential election will come at a pivotal moment for its tech industry. A report released by the Pew Research Study yesterday found that almost three quarters of US citizens don’t believe that major platforms like Google and Facebook will prevent election interference. The figure barely shifted depending on political allegiance.
Eighteen months ago, the figure was 66%. What changed? For one, the mountain of evidence suggesting Russia and other outside influences played a role in the 2016 vote have eroded Americans’ trust in Big Tech. Second, the industry has done little to curry favor with its public. A startup boom, that encouraged investors to pour $763 billion into young companies over the past decade, has hushed.
Massive layoffs at the likes of Zume and Mozilla have raised questions as to tech’s job-creating powers. Investigations into AI and privacy breaches have been plastered all over major newspapers. And the shenanigans of high-flying, low-profiting CEOs like WeWork’s Adam Neumann have bolstered critics’ views of Silicon Valley as a slush fund for the ultra-rich.
As the election looms, it is important for Big Tech to get its house in order. Leaders like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who has been the worst of a coy bunch, should come out and offer statements about their platforms – and what can be done to prevent an assault on US democracy. Microsoft’s ElectionGuard is a good start. But the industry needs to do more.
Investors must play the market with more circumspection, lest another dot-com bubble bursts all over the American economy. Grandiose IPOs are already becoming yesterday’s news, with flops like Casper proving investors are becoming savvy to the grow-now-profit-later model that has served CEOs, if not bottom lines, for over ten years.
Silicon Valley must show it can build sustainable economies of scale that can grow organically, and not implode. Later this year, America will change. Will Big Tech change with it?