What is Techlash and what does it mean for the digital industry?
Written on: 11 July 2019
Written by: Freya King
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Growing hostility towards the tech giants is causing a shift that can be felt throughout the industry. Techlash is the term first coined by The Economist to describe this new phenomenon. The Oxford English Dictionary defined the word as “A strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence of large technology companies, particularly those based in Silicon Valley.”
Simply put, the era of blindly trusting the big 5 tech companies – Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft - is over. The Techlash stems from both the consumers who are losing trust in the tech giants, and also from governments who resent the increasing power that these companies possess.
Think about this. If you want to find something out, where would you look? Chances are, you’ll do a quick Google search. But have you considered the implications of one search engine acting as a barrier between you and all content on the internet? The algorithms on the websites we use dictate the kind of things that we read, listen to and watch.
It’s easy to forget that these platforms are not public forums, but businesses, and this is what drives the decisions that they make. With only a few huge corporations dominating the market for search engines, social media and online shopping, the general feeling is becoming one of resistance.
A side effect of the freedom that the internet provides is the rapid spread of “fake news”. With more ways than ever to get your news fix, how do you know if the articles you are reading are accurate? With great difficulty, apparently. This becomes a big problem when articles based on “alternative facts” can influence public opinion and even undermine democratic processes.
That’s why responsibility is being placed on the websites that host news stories to monitor and police the content that is shared on their platforms. Facebook have deployed a new fact-checker to help it cope with the spread of misinformation. But even then, how companies decide what kind of content to remove and what to allow is likely to be another bone of contention.
Concerns about data security have been brought into the public eye thanks to major breaches of trust such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Consumers are starting to ask more questions about who owns their information, and more importantly, what they plan to do with it. The average person’s digital footprint is huge, so it can be hard to take back control. Tech companies are now expected to safeguard the data that they process, which is why there is growing demand for cyber security.
Effects on mental health
Another thing that is starting to turn people against the tech giants is the perception that their products have a negative effect on the mental health of those who use them. Unfortunately, impressionable young people on the internet can be exposed to cyber bullying, hate speech and extremist content. Not to mention the addictive qualities of smartphones and social media, which we’re only just beginning to see the full scope of.
While we don’t expect to see large numbers of people ditching their smartphones and deleting their social media profiles, it’s clear that tech companies of all sizes need to reconsider the impact they are making on society.