The Pandemic Has Made Sudden Heroes of the Tech Companies—for Now

By Laura Forman, Wall Street Journal

Technology companies: villains or heroes? Oppressive or empowering? The hazards of technology have vexed consumers even as they’ve enjoyed its warm embrace.

But the pandemic has tilted the balance, at least for now. Shelter-in-place orders have, to varying degrees, kept the world inside. These mandatory shut-ins appear to have made us more enamored of the very same tech platforms users very recently loved to hate.

As public technology companies increasingly top the S&P 500 and, until recently, funding for private startups flowed freely, its dangers have also been exposed. Several of tech’s largest players have become the subjects of government privacy and antitrust investigations. A Pew Research Center survey just 10 months ago showed consumers’ trust in big tech was polarizing: Only 50% felt technology had a positive impact in the U.S.

Social media has been demonized for data breaches and fake news. Gig economy platforms have been criticized for low wages and lack of benefits for their workers. Industrywide, safety issues have elicited heated debate over whether tech platforms should be mere marketplace intermediaries or assume the responsibility for the safety of their users on either side of the transaction. These issues are hardly trivial and few have been resolved.

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