An Epidemic of Trust in Big Tech
by Howard Yan
Self-confinement in the age of coronavirus has undeniably virtualized how we represent, connect, and interact with the rest of society. None of this is possible without technology companies who not only offer services, but quasi-extensions of every person into the virtual sphere. Adequately addressing the attached responsibilities requires a robust understanding and respect for the eclectic voices, needs, and expressions found in virtual spaces. Yet despite sinking public trust in technology titans, Silicon Valley continues to make uneven progress towards stronger privacy controls, content moderation, and representation. However, greater public scrutiny presents an opportunity at earnest dialogue-if not dissent. Therefore, the onus is on both the current and next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to candidly re-evaluate corporate responsibility and talent acquisition with the broader public.
The decade preceding 2020 has been unkind to companies along the lines of Facebook, Uber, and Google. While they occupy different industries-for the most part-each represents a different case in point. Earlier in 2019, Facebook came under intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill for enabling violent and inappropriate content. Uber continues to face controversy for biased algorithms, with a University of Washington study associating a customer’s race with 16–28% longer wait times. Meanwhile, Google has earned the unenviable, though not uncommon, distinction of repeatedly failing data privacy standards. The American public remains distrustful of Big Tech—with more than 70% agreeing it holds too much sway in spite of increasing appreciation for the role its products play.
That said, with coronavirus entering the equation, these blips are less tolerated as services become the only tether between the home and newly contrived virtual realm we reluctantly inhabit. This has translated to social impetus for dialogue and solutions. Paving the way are the nation’s academic institutions. UC Berkeley, for instance, houses a multitude of student organizations advocating for progress by offering pre-professional training and community. Amongst its ranks is DiversaTech, a technology consulting group committed to elevating voices across academic disciplines and social backgrounds. As recently as August, the group began launching events catered exclusively to under-represented minorities. Though its approach is not uniformly embraced, the group is far from alone in embracing such new tactics. By hosting a plethora of workshops with industry professionals, DiversaTech is one of many examples attempting to rewrite the recruiting process for an industry in desperate need of redressing.
As the world continues to endure the coronavirus epidemic, users at home face an additional epidemic of trust on the screen and in the airwaves. Despite progress and higher consumer appreciation, technology companies face multiple hurdles in earning consumer trust during and beyond the pandemic. With the slow pace of reform, dialogue between industry leaders and younger generations to re-imagine a welcoming and less imperfect tech space.
Howard Yan is a junior at UC Berkeley studying Economics and IEOR with an emphasis on business analytics & policy. He is a Senior Advisor on the Saama team with DiversaTech this semester. In his free time, he enjoys watching documentaries and exploring new cuisines with friends.
DiversaTech is the leading student-run technology consulting organization at UC Berkeley, creating unique experiences and projects that encourage students of all backgrounds to connect, collaborate, and create. We combine engineering, design, and business principles to create dynamic recommendations and strategies. Visit our website to learn more!