Davos 2015: Technology firms warned they face collapse in trust

Companies told self-regulation not enough to halt consumer concerns about privacy

Paul Achleitner, chairman of the supervisory board at Deutsche Bank AG, said a self-regulatory approach had been previously employed by banks – but notably failed to quell a political backlash against their over-reach. Photograph: Bloomberg

Paul Achleitner, chairman of the supervisory board at Deutsche Bank AG, said a self-regulatory approach had been previously employed by banks – but notably failed to quell a political backlash against their over-reach. Photograph: Bloomberg

 

Large technology companies will experience the same collapse in reputation as banks have endured in recent years unless they rapidly change their policy approach, business leaders have cautioned.

Their warning was directed at the influential heads of technology companies, such as the Silicon Valley giants, who were told they needed to recognise that self-regulation will not be sufficient to stave off mounting public alarm about issues such as privacy.

“Self-regulation, no matter what you do, is just not going to be good enough [for tech companies],” said Paul Achleitner, chairman of the supervisory board of Deutsche Bank. Addressing the Davos economic forum, he pointed out that a self-regulatory approach had been previously employed by banks – but notably failed to quell a political backlash against their over-reach.

His comments come amid growing opposition, particularly in Europe, to the cultural dominance of US tech giants such as Google and Facebook, fuelled by concerns about widespread US internet surveillance and corporate tax avoidance.

Anti-trust probe

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Uber, the taxi app company, has also faced fierce opposition from incumbent groups across Europe.

“Never assume that because something has been common practice [in the past] it will not be judged harshly in the future,” Mr Achleitner said. He argued that just as bankers had been surprised by the speed at which political attitudes towards them had changed during the 20th century financial revolution, tech leaders could be shocked by a similar shift in the “technology revolution” of the 21st century.

Fadi Chehade, president of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the main entity that organises web domains, said the collapse of trust in technology companies could be “just as big” as it had been for banks. “It’s real [as a threat], adding that most tech leaders had been far too complacent about the reputational risks. But this year there are signs that this trust in technology is slipping. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015)