The tech industry is the most-trusted sector in California, but two-thirds of residents in the Bay Area — home of Silicon Valley — think it has been underregulated, according to a survey by public relations firm Edelman.

There’s an apparent paradox between trust in the tech industry and a desire for more regulation as thorny issues such as privacy become increasingly important. The survey is meant to gauge the mood of the nation’s most populous state when it comes to tech, government, the economy, and the workplace.

For the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, the firm interviewed 1,502 people living in California, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent. The group interviewed 500 people in the Bay Area and 500 in Los Angeles, with the rest coming from other parts of the state.The margin of error was plus or minus 4.4 percent in both the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Edelman also surveyed more than 33,000 people across the nation.

A few highlights? More than 70 percent of California women believe core local industries have not done enough for gender quality at work. And more than seven in 10 Californians believe that industry can and should advocate for societal good.

Looking specifically at the tech industry, 79 percent of Californians (83 percent of Bay Area residents and 77 percent of LA area residents) believe tech companies have an obligation to speak out against policies that may hurt their employees or customers, yet 66 percent say the tech industry is reactive, rather than proactive.

Above: Californians know the big tech firms but aren’t as familiar with social media companies.

Image Credit: Edelman

Within the Bay Area, 62 percent of those surveyed say they trust the tech industry, yet only 38 percent believe the growth of technology has benefited them personally, underscoring the potential for the public to turn on the tech industry. In fact, 62 percent of Bay Area residents say “the tech industry makes the wealthy even wealthier, but doesn’t really help the rest of California.”

More than two-thirds of Bay Area residents (67 percent) think the tech industry has been given too much freedom and needs more regulation. According to Bay Area respondents, these regulations should include making tech companies more financially liable for data breaches (89 percent support), taxing companies that move their manufacturing overseas (82 percent), taxing companies that replace workers with machines (66 percent), reducing the number of skilled workers from abroad (66 percent) and preventing tech monopolies (56 percent).

“In the battle to protect its license to innovate around the world, the industry must first deal with perception at home. All politics is local,” said Kristine Boyden, president of Edelman’s Western Region, in a statement.

The survey also found that the public distrusts social media. While 62 percent of Californians trust the tech industry overall, just 37 percent said they trust social media companies. In the Bay Area, social media is even less trusted, with roughly a third (35 percent) of residents saying they trust the industry, making it the least-trusted industry that Edelman tested.

When it comes to what companies comprise the tech industry, Apple is the top company that comes to mind, followed by Google, Microsoft, and Samsung, with social media companies lagging far behind.

More than 77 percent of Californians blame social media for the problem of fake news, and by a 58- to 42-point margin (61 to 39 in the Bay Area) Californians maintain that social media spreads misinformation rather than helping people become more informed about issues. It’s therefore not surprising that more than seven in 10 support a variety of regulations, including 86 percent supporting requirements of the same standards for political ads on social media as on TV, 78 percent supporting fines on social media companies that host, publicize, or repeat fake news, 75 percent supporting fines against social media companies when people use their platforms to violate the law, and 74 percent supporting a requirement that social media companies review all content posted on their platform for accuracy.

Above: Map of Silicon Valley

Image Credit: Shutterstock

More than 70 percent of California women believe the media, entertainment, and technology industries have not done enough to improve gender equality and fair treatment in the workplace. One-third of California women (32 percent) reported that they had been sexually harassed at work, with 38 percent having experienced unfair treatment at work because of their gender. That number goes up significantly for Bay Area women (46 percent) and California’s college-educated women (49 percent).

Sixty-five percent of respondents said that women in positions of power are more trustworthy than men, a seven-percentage point increase since 2017. The perception that women in power are more truthful than men holds across both genders, with 52 percent of men and 77 percent of women citing female leaders as more trustworthy. That’s not a surprise, given the #MeToo movement and the steady stream of harassment scandals coming out of Silicon Valley.

“Clear actions, grounded in well-articulated values, are a must for companies to build trust from the inside out. Beginning with their own employees, then shifting toward the communities in which they work and into society at large, there is both expectation and opportunity for business to lead,” said Stacey Zolt Hara, managing director of corporate and public affairs for Edelman Bay Area, in a statement.

Above: Social media isn’t trusted as much as tech as a whole in California.

Image Credit: Edelman

Housing costs remain a huge issue, with 71 percent of Californians (77 percent Bay Area, 70 percent Los Angeles) reporting that the cost and availability of housing is a “very serious” concern. This group far outpaces the 43 percent who consider the lack of high-paying jobs a very serious concern.

More than half of Californians (57 percent) said they don’t believe their children will have a better life than they do. And because of the high cost of living, Edelman found that there has been an increase among millennials (58 percent) and parents (65 percent) who are considering leaving California, up seven and 12 percentage points respectively in the last year.

Interviews were conducted online from January 12 to January 22.