Tech and Trust Collide at SXSW

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By Jamie Berman, Account Supervisor

SXSW has always been a hotbed for innovations, announcements and debate in technology, but a rollercoaster year for the industry put a different spin on things at the recent 2019 event. Punctuated by Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to break up the tech giants – and the elaboration she provided during her SXSW keynote – regulation and the economics of tech were front-of-mind for many in attendance. Throughout the conference and subsequent panels, many of which grappled with ethics and technology, questions about regulation continued to trickle through.

Most speakers agreed that some form of regulation is needed to not only improve competition and give tech start-ups better access to growth assets, but to protect consumers. From the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the many ways in which our data is sold to the countless breaches that have emerged over the last few years, it’s become increasingly risky to be a digital consumer, despite the fact it’s nearly inevitable in our society.

In today’s highly-scrutinized tech environment, companies must prioritize data and consumer protection over financial growth. Data continue to show that customers want to do business with companies who have their best interests, and those of society, at heart, and internet security was the top issue consumers wanted companies to address in the 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study. While a public relations strategy is a key part of communicating a company’s values and dedication to consumer protection, there must be concrete actions behind them to back it up. Who within your organization is in charge of privacy and security? How robust were your testing protocols? Is security a key feature of your product? These questions are now top-of-mind for concerned and savvy consumers.

At SXSW, speakers attributed their successes in data protection to their proactivity – steps they’ve taken with the understanding that they have a responsibility to consumers; for example, Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley explained how the company has been anticipating regulation and preparing appropriately to meet new requirements without sacrificing functionality, especially in the business of location technology.

More and more companies are speaking up to advocate for consumer protections (perhaps none as loudly as Apple’s Tim Cook), and this chorus is proof that they recognize trust as a critical component of their businesses. Consumers are quickly waking up to the risks invited by being a digital native, and their favorite brands must demonstrate – through action – that they are proactive allies when it comes to digital safety.