Edelman: Trust increasing across tech and telco sectors

Tech companies and telco providers have increased in trust over the last year in Australia, with credibility in these sectors climbing to the top of the industry scale in spite of the Snowden revelations impacting in both industries.

Edelman, the world's largest public relations firm, has released the results of its annual global survey (PDF) on perceptions of credibility and trust across the business and government sectors, with the results showing that technology is the most trusted industry, and the telecommunications sector seeing the second-highest increase in trust over the last year.

The Edelman Trust Barometer, released on Friday, found that in Australia, trust in non-government organisations was up by 6 percent, business by 11 percent, government by 13 percent, and media also by 6 percent. Overall trust in Australia for all of business and government rose by eight points. However, Australia still sits in the "neutral" category of the scale, neither trusters nor distrusters on the whole.

The energy sector saw the largest increase in overall trust, now sitting on 53 percent, up 20 points from last year. The telecommunications industry followed, up 15 points to 58 percent, and brewing came in third place, up 14 points since last year.

Technology was the most trusted industry, on 77 percent (up 12 points from 2013), with consumer electronic manufacturing coming in second place, at 75 percent (up nine points).

The government is seen as needing to do more to regulate business and protect against "irresponsible business", with 59 percent seeing this as its main role in the business sector. Thirty four percent of respondents said the government is not doing enough to regulate business.

"It has typically fallen under the remit of government to create the context for change," said Michelle Hutton, chief executive officer for Edelman Australia.

"Today, people expect businesses to play a bigger role in shaping a positive future, trusting business to innovate, unite, and deliver across borders, but, as the Edelman Trust Barometer reveals, only under the watchful eye of government."

For the survey, the PR firm surveyed 33,000 people across the globe, with a 1,000-person sample size of the general population in each country. In Australia, it also interviewed 200 members of the "informed public" for the survey; that is, people who have been university educated, follow business news media more than once each week, have a household income in the highest quartile for their age group, and keep up with public policy and politics every week.

However, while trust in technology and telecommunications continues to rise, the recent leaks by former US government contractor Edward Snowden on the National Security Agency (NSA) have shown that the governments of the world are more than capable of using both of these avenues to spy on citizens, and each other.

Earlier this week, Microsoft found it necessary to reassure Australians that there are no backdoors into the federal parliament through its software in the wake of the leaks from Snowden showing that the NSA claimed to have direct access to the systems of Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and several other tech giants.

"DPS [the Australian Department of Parliamentary Services] has not been provided with any specific advice that Microsoft products or any other products have been backdoored by foreign intelligence services," the department said.

"Microsoft has advised DPS that there is no backdoor within the Microsoft suite of products, nor [has Microsoft] attempted to source information from the parliamentary network or provide information to any other entity."

In December, Microsoft labelled the NSA an "advanced persistent threat" — a title that it normally reserves for cybercriminals — and earlier in January called for an international convention on government data access .

After the reveal that the NSA was collecting millions of Verizon customer details, it was also discovered in July last year that Australia's largest telco Telstra had signed an agreement with the FBI and US Department of Justice in 2001 to retain metadata on communications carried across its cable linking the US and Asia.

"Telstra, at the time majority owned and controlled by the Howard government, struck a deal to allow 24/7 surveillance of calls going in and out of the United States, including calls made by Australians," Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam said in July.

"The cables in question are operated by Telstra subsidiary Reach, which controls more than 40 major telecommunications cables in the region, including cables in and out of China and Australia."