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Don't trust the tech giants? You likely rely on them anyway

Don't trust the tech giants? You likely rely on them anyway

June 12th, 2018 by Associated Press in Business

FILE- In this June 1, 2018, file photo, commuters look at their phones in Los Angeles. Technology giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon ask us to trust them with ever-more sensitive aspects of our lives, from our relationships to our private conversations. But there’s a catch: If they prove unworthy of that trust, the repercussions are scant and alternatives seem hard to find. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — If technology giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon face a common threat to their dominance, it probably lies in a single word: trust.

In some respects, these companies are riding high. They have woven themselves into the fabric of our daily lives, making their services indispensable for daily tasks like keeping in touch with family and friends, watching TV and buying cat food. Revenues are up and profits are soaring.

However, they've also drawn the attention of regulators in Europe and the U.S. thanks to carelessness with consumer data and other problems. Facebook's leaky data controls, for instance, let Cambridge Analytica mine the profiles of up to 87 million people in an attempt to swing elections. The social network has also had to beef up manual oversight to clamp down on the spread of fake news.

Google's YouTube has likewise been implicated in the spread of political conspiracy theories. Not long ago, Amazon's always-listening Echo speaker inadvertently recorded a family's conversation at home — and then sent the recording to someone else.

Some of these issues are systemic; others may be little more than the growing pains of new technologies. What they all fuel, though, is a sense that technology may not always warrant the implicit faith we place in it.

Companies have to realize "that trust isn't digital," said Gerd Leonhard, a futurist and author of "Technology vs. Humanity." "Trust is not something that you download. Trust is a feeling. It's a perception."

Trust looms large in modern life. We still get on airplanes even though they sometimes come apart in flight. We go to hospitals even though medical errors sometimes kill patients. These services are too important to live without, despite the occasional disastrous error.

However, those industries are also heavily regulated because of the risks involved. Technology companies, by comparison, are largely unconstrained.

Trust issues could be especially acute for technology companies, since their services are effectively omnipresent yet largely inscrutable. You can't audit Google's algorithm to see why it's giving you certain search results the way you can watch your bank balance. You just have to trust the company is upholding its promises.

Yet so far, such concerns don't loom large for most consumers. "That trust is eroded, but the uncomfortable thing is no one really cares," said Scott Galloway, a New York University marketing professor. "As long as they trust that technology will improve their lives, they don't appear to care about the other stuff."

A 2016 survey from the Pew Research Center, for instance, found that only 9 percent of users were "very confident" that social media companies could protect their data. More than half had little or no confidence. Yet a January survey from Pew found 69 percent of U.S. adults use social media, unchanged from 2016.