Apple recently joined with broadband companies like Comcast and AT&T to speak out on net neutrality. According to Recode, Apple leadership stated, “Broadband providers should not block, throttle, or otherwise discriminate against lawful websites and services. . . . Lifting the current ban on paid prioritization arrangements could allow broadband providers to favor the transmission of one provider’s content or services (or the broadband provider’s own online content or services) over other online content, fundamentally altering the internet as we know it today — to the detriment of consumers, competition, and innovation.”
Tech companies took another stand in August when companies like Google and GoDaddy rejected domain name services for a white supremacist organization after the protests and violence in Charlottesville.
We are seeing large tech companies influencing policy questions and social change in ways other industries and enterprise do not or cannot.
How Tech Companies Exert Influence
“Tech companies speak up because they need to maintain the image of goodwill towards themselves. This is important for them from public policy, customers, employee/recruiting, and so on,” said Marty Puranik, founder and CEO of Atlantic.Net, a leading cloud hosting solutions provider.
Tech companies tend to have outsized influence because they are made up of people who tend to be progressive and try to challenge the status quo, Puranik added. Also, due to their successes and vast profits, these companies and their employees have time to think about advancing social issues because they aren't tethered to normal problems that face SMBs.
“Because successful tech companies have outsized profits due to their monopoly-like business models (the ones that worked out), spending on social issues or policy is a relatively smaller part of their profits than traditional companies who see their profits competed away,” Puranik stated.
It goes beyond profits, though. A company like Google or Microsoft can take a stand on a politically charged issue because it knows its customers will keep coming back. Take the incident with the Google employee who wrote a manifesto about women in tech and concerns that the company silenced conservative voices that lit up the media in August as an example. It started a conversation across the country about free speech and diversity in the workplace. There were calls for boycotts against Google, but in the end, users depend on Google too much to abandon it for other options. Google was able to take a stand without taking a hit in its reputation or overall customer base.
So often with large tech companies, it isn’t about revenue, but rather about the social impact they are able to make, said Iri Trashanski, SVP, Market Development and Product Management, with Hitachi Vantara. And it isn’t just with a voice and speaking out about political or social issues; tech companies have the ability to produce societal change through the technology at hand.
Everyone produces data, and data provides outcomes. Using those outcomes, Trashanski explained, tech companies can make the world a better and safer place.
“It’s a matter of how you use the technology,” he said. For example, Hitachi Vantara is using robotics as a way to protect elderly citizens. They use visual data to recognize normal and abnormal behavioral patterns and to keep watch over the elderly.
Social Issues and Innovation Merge
When asked what they thought about why tech companies were leaders in social-issue conversations, a group of employees with a Linux distribution company agreed that it comes down to innovation. Tech companies, they said, rely on innovation to stay alive. They have to be forward thinking for their own survival. So it’s not surprising that this thought process expands to other areas. If you are going to think outside the box for the next technological breakthrough, you also need to be thinking outside the box when it comes to other areas. You have to speak up to get others to buy into your innovations, so why not speak up when you see an injustice.
And this takes us back to an issue that is front and center for tech companies: net neutrality, which Chris Houston, CEO of SurfEasy, a VPN provider, sees as being an on-going battleground for the foreseeable future.
“That’s why SurfEasy is committed to highlighting the issues, and making our efforts to maintain a free and open internet front and center,” said Houston. “It’s too easy to say these things are tech issues and don’t matter, but last year, the UN passed a resolution saying that censorship of the internet was a violation of basic human rights. That should illustrate how important the internet has become in democratizing information all around the world, and any efforts to treat access differently needs to be fought for.”
Sue Marquette Poremba has been writing about network security since 2008. In addition to her coverage of security issues for IT Business Edge, her security articles have been published at various sites such as Forbes, Midsize Insider and Tom's Guide. You can reach Sue via Twitter: @sueporemba