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DAVOS 2021: Trust is falling 'substantially' in governments and tech firms

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·3-min read
A pedestrian walks in central London with the Houses of Parliament in the background as data shows falling trust in government. Photo: Hollie Adams/AFP via Getty
A pedestrian walks in central London with the Houses of Parliament in the background as data shows falling trust in government. Photo: Hollie Adams/AFP via Getty

A surge in trust in governments when the pandemic first hit has now faded altogether, according to new data.

Richard Edelman, CEO of PR and marketing multinational Edelman, said on Thursday trust had “ebbed profoundly,” leaving businesses more trusted than authorities.

Polls by the company published earlier this month found trust levels increased between last January and May as publics looked to their governments to battle the pandemic.

“It was like World War Two. It was the big hammer and it [government could actually save people,” said Edelman at a panel event on “empowered data societies” at the virtual Davos Agenda 2021 summit of world leaders on Thursday.

But trust had “ebbed profoundly” in the second half of 2020, he said, whereas trust in business remained fairly consistent.

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“Business therefore has become the most trusted institution,” said Edelman, noting it ranked above not only government but also NGOs and the media.

Edelman’s ‘trust barometer’ survey data is compiled into a index of trust levels, with 100 showing complete trust and 1 no trust at all.

While all 11 countries included saw trust in government rise between January and May 2020 — most of all in Britain — these gains tailed off, to leave readings in January 2021 just one point above a year earlier.

It slid most between May and this month in South Korea (-17), the UK (-15) and China (-13). The US also saw a -6 reading. France was the only one of the 11 to see gains in the second half of last year, up two points.

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Levels of trust in business have seen a slight dip, however, with a particularly large dip in trust in tech, down seven points on 2020.

Edelman, whose father set up the company, highlighted a falling willingness among the public not only to let governments track them, but also to share data with brands.

“Trust in tech has declined substantially,” he said. “It’s just over pharameuticals, just over food products. It used to be far ahead of all the other sectors.

“A lot of this has to do with suspicion not just about size, but about data and privacy.”

Asked about governance of data by panel host Ali Velshi, an NBC News anchor, Edelman said protecting information quality was the “smart move” by business and the main way to build trust.

“If you wait, then governments overreact,” he said. “There’s a huge problem and then there’s a popular outcry, and of course the legislators have to attack.”

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