Tech giants Facebook, Google and Apple have taken hits to their reputations in the wake of various privacy issues.
Facebook took the biggest dip in the 2019 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient, which measures the reputations of the 100 most visible companies in the United States as perceived by the public. The massive social network dropped from No. 51 on 2018’s list to No. 94, on the latest list.
But Facebook isn’t alone in the decline in reputation of Big Tech companies. Apple, which was No. 1 in 2012, slid from No. 29 in 2018 to No. 32 in 2019. And Google, which was No. 8 in 2017 and No. 28 in 2018, dropped down to No. 42 this year.
Meanwhile, outdoor retailers Patagonia (No. 3) and L.L. Bean (No. 4) saw their reputations increase, ranking in 2018 at No. 9 and No. 15, respectively. See the complete list on the Harris Poll website.
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Why did Facebook’s reputation dip?
The major social network appeared in many headlines in 2018 — but probably not for the reasons it wanted to.
In October of last year, news leaked that nearly 30 million Facebook users had their data stolen by hackers. This data included phone numbers and email addresses, recent searches on Facebook, location history and the types of devices people used to access the service.
The breach of privacy – and other miscues such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which as many as 87 million had their data improperly shared – caused Facebook to fall out of favor with the American public, according to John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll.
“What was driving a lot of that decline was how Facebook became misaligned with American society,” Gerzema said.
Privacy of data is extremely important to Americans — according to Harris Poll data, it is Americans’ top social issue, with 69% of survey respondents indicating such. However, Gerzema said that only 15% of Americans agreed that Facebook securely protects its customers’ personal information and data.
Why did other Big Tech companies fall?
Apple recently had its own privacy kerfuffle when it was found that its FaceTime app could eavesdrop on others. And Google has had its own privacy issues with its Chrome browser and Google+ social network, the public version of which is being shut down in April.
The days of Apple and Google topping reputations lists may be long gone. Gerzema said this might be due to negative connotations surrounding social networks and technology, as well as public scandals in addition to other public scandals.
“Big Tech sort of became front and center as a societal fear,” Gerzema said.
This fear is derived from a perceived loss of self. According to Harrison Poll data, 80% of Americans said that social networks are creating an identity crisis in young adults, and 67% said technology has a negative impact on social values.
Some tech groups have good reputations. How?
It is true: though Facebook, Google and Apple all took hits, other tech companies thrived in this year’s survey. For example, Microsoft — which was at No. 20 in 2017 and No. 11 in 2018 — rose to No. 9 this past year. And Samsung saw the largest positive increase of any company on the list — rising from No. 35 in 2018 to No. 7 in 2019.
This reputation increase may be due to these companies remaining stable and out of the spotlight, according to Gerzema.
“They don’t seem to be near the scandals and the public debacles that face some of the other tech companies,” he said.
What are the companies atop the list doing well?
Wegmans topped the list for company with the best reputation in 2019. The supermarket chain rates so highly because of its ability to “build an experience and a community in its stores,” Gerzema said.
Another reason companies may rank high on the list is their commitment to social values, according to Gerzema. For example, he noted that Patagonia “walks its talk” as the company pledges at least one percent of sales or 10 percent of pre-tax profits (whichever is more) to environmental groups.
“It’s important for companies to understand how important values are today,” he said.
Why is the U.S. Government on this list?
The U.S. Government bottoms out the list with the worst reputation at No. 100. While Gerzema clarified that the U.S. Government — all three of its branches, for this survey — is not a company, survey respondents named it as one of the most visible “companies” in the country.
This marks the first time the U.S. Government has appeared in the Harris Poll Research Quotient, according to Gerzema.
“Americans on the left and the right are saying that the U.S. government is not performing well as a company,” Gerzema said.
Top 10 of the Reputation Quotient
- L.L. Bean
- The Walt Disney Company
- Publix Supermarkets
- Proctor & Gamble Co.
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Follow USA TODAY intern Ben Tobin on Twitter: @TobinBen