What MBAs Need to Know About…Big Tech

What MBAs Need to Know About…Big Tech main image

Being a successful MBA graduate means having an awareness of the world’s major industries and companies. In a new series, we shine a spotlight on some of the biggest business stories around the world and cover the key facts all MBA students should know.

Lawmakers have discussed the possibility of minimizing the power tech giants have. However, the notion to enhance privacy and impose anti-trust regulations is a political discussion more than one about policy.

One example we could turn to is Facebook. Over the past few years, the social media giant has got into some hot water, most notably for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw researcher Dr Aleksandr Kogan and his company Global Science Research (GSR) use a personality quiz to harvest the Facebook data of up to 87 million people.

Some of this data was then sold to Cambridge Analytica, which used it to psychologically profile voters and target political advertising in the US.

The UK Information Commissioner's Office said Facebook had let a "serious breach" of the law take place and fined the company £500,000. A hefty fine but a drop in the ocean for the global brand.

Since the 2016 US presidential election, Facebook has also been scrutinized for its role in the dissemination of fake news and misleading political adverts spread by media outlets and lawmakers.

In 2017 alone, the company received billion-dollar fines over the following issues:

  • Failure to tackle fake news
  • Anti-trust, data privacy and tax breaches
  • Accusations of election meddling
  • Research highlighting the dangers of social media addiction
  • Publication of extremist content

As a result of these repeated abuses, Facebook is facing increased government regulation, as the US, EU and other world powers try to hold the social media network to account.

According to the Guardian, Facebook will face new regulation of their advertising products, as well as the algorithm that determines what appears in users’ news feeds and in search results.

Controlling tech giants

Washington has long been in a discussion about placing regulatory bollards around Big Tech firms, as lawmakers and their constituents alike feel they have become too powerful, too omnipotent, and incapable (or unwilling) of self-regulation.

New data privacy legislation, the removal of special legal protection reserved for tech, and anti-trust actions to break up big tech companies have all been discussed, but will these ideas actually come to fruition?

Former UK deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, swapped the House of Commons for the tech boardroom last year by taking on the role of head of global affairs at Facebook. This new role often sees him acting as an intermediary between the company and the world’s politicians

It’s a position Clegg didn’t take up without diligent thought. According to the New Statesman, before taking the role Clegg wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, chief operation officer at Facebook, saying, “I think it’s remarkable that you offer this ad-funded business model for free.

“But you’ve sullied political and public trust about how Facebook is a guardian of people’s data.

This forth-right attitude impressed Zuckerburg and Sandberg, and Clegg appears comfortable translating the anxieties and concerns of world leaders into actions and policies that Facebook can understand. Whether this will result in a form of regulation everyone is happy with remains to be seen though.

Techlash

For some years now, cracks have started to form with regards to trust in tech. A newish word to the English language, “techlash”, defined as the “strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence that large technology companies hold,” was runner-up for Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2018.

Concerns about data privacy, job displacements, and growing income inequality have made tech companies a talking point on the political campaign trail. 2020 US presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren has called for the break-up of big tech firms, while business magnate Mark Cuban has warned AI could cause the end of humanity.

In many cases, AI and other new technologies have caused concern not because they will definitely have a negative impact, but because there is a lack of understanding about the benefits of their adoption.

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer’s report demonstrates individuals trust technology if they see how it benefits them, highlighting the importance of communicating the impact of tech products on individuals as well as society.

For Facebook, the risk is that a lack of public trust could have serious ramifications, with users deleting their accounts or using other social media networks instead.

That being said, a survey by the Ponemon Institute – an independent research firm specializing in privacy and data protection – of 3,000 Facebook users found that concerns about Facebook’s data collection weren’t necessarily enough to convince people to close their accounts.

NBC News spoke to Robert Blattberg, a professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, who said: “Just because people say they're concerned about their privacy doesn't necessarily mean it will affect their behaviour.”

All about trust

If you decide to work in big tech after completing your MBA – either at an established company or your own start-up – it’s vital you’re aware of the rising number of people who feel profits and the greater good aren’t mutually exclusive.

Tech companies must ensure making a positive impact in their communities over quarterly revenue and margin metrics is a priority, and that the benefits of their technology are clearly explained to users.

This will be beneficial for the organization and make consumers and employees aware they are more than just a cog in a machine.

Questions have been left unanswered in the eyes of consumers, and a new approach is needed when it comes to:

  • Increasing transparency
  • Redefining what constitutes anti-competitive behaviour
  • Reconsidering data ownership and privacy

To ensure the future is inclusive, we all have a part to play. We all need to engage in the technology debate and the influence tech platforms have on economies, societies, and our lives in general.

Written by Niamh Ollerton

Niamh is Assistant Editor of TopMBA.com, creating and editing content for an international MBA student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of the business world.  

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