While much of the 2020 news cycle was dominated by unforeseen crises, prompting Merriam-Webster to formally acknowledge the term doomscrolling, a more familiar topic that has come back into the headlines with gusto is technology regulations.
Over the past couple weeks, the US Department of Justice charged Google with anti-competitive practices, EU regulators are putting together a “hit list” of tech companies that will be subjected to stricter rules and Australia is considering laws that would require Facebook as well as Google to pay local media outlets to share their news.
In Snow’s latest survey of 1,000 IT leaders and 3,000 employees, we found that the vast majority of both groups support these measures, but that their feelings about tech regulation have also evolved over the past year.
In recent years, conversations have significantly increased on technology regulations around the world and the need to better reflect or protect our digital lifestyles. The rapid pace of technology innovation, increasing reliance on data as the foundation of many businesses and growing severity of cybersecurity threats have raised serious questions over whether current policies are sufficient. And many countries have found that the resounding answer is no.
Much of this talk was put on pause while the technology industry, businesses, governments and individuals alike responded to the coronavirus and tried to make sense of the uncertainty. But as the pandemic continues to linger, many countries are resuming their reviews of technology regulations. Just like GDPR a few years ago, the continued debate and potential resulting regulations could have lasting impacts for many organizations on areas like the overall costs of technology or introduce new compliance mandates. Ultimately, despite a patchwork of rules from various countries or the potentially short shelf lives of some policies (like the recently rejected US-EU data transfer agreement), it’s important for IT leaders to stay informed on potential regulations. It is also critical that they have comprehensive visibility of their networks, and a sense for employee sentiment and behavior, to understand how these laws could impact their business or technology strategy.
A growing majority believes more regulation is needed
For Snow’s upcoming 2021 IT Priorities Report, we polled a sample of global IT leaders and employees to determine current challenges faced over the past 12 months and learn how organizations are adapting their technology priorities moving forward. One area we asked about was technology regulations, which we compared to similar questions presented in our 2019 global worker survey.
In 2019, 74% of employees said that the technology industry needed more regulations. Looking at the 2020 global data, 94% of IT leaders and 82% of employees said that they believe more regulations were needed. Of those who do want to see more tech regulations, the two leading areas were data protection (54% IT leaders / 46% employees) and cybersecurity (54% IT / 42% employees).
For IT leaders, concerns vary by region
When looking at geographic breakdowns from the 2020 data, IT leaders in different parts of the world had divergent views on the areas that may require additional regulation for the technology industry.
- The United States was the only country where IT leaders ranked other areas ahead of cybersecurity, with 63% wanting to see more regulations on data protection and 60% on data collection. Cybersecurity came in third place with 49%, followed by universal connectivity at 39% and competition at 36%.
- In the United Kingdom, 54% of IT prefer to see regulations focused on cybersecurity first and foremost, followed by closely by data protection at 48%. Data collection and encryption tied for third at 35% each, followed by competition and universal connectivity at 22% each.
- Similar to the United Kingdom, German IT leaders also favor regulating cybersecurity (53%), data protection (51%), encryption (32%), data collection (32%), and taxation (22%).
- Australian IT leaders also favor regulation focused on cybersecurity (60%), data protection (55%), data collection (48%), encryption (37%) and competition (24%).
- British and German IT respondents had the highest percentage of those who felt the technology industry did not need more regulation, both reporting 9%. Australians were slightly lower at 6%, and just 2% of American IT leaders thought additional regulation was not needed.
Feelings around tech regulations are changing
Beyond weighing in on where potential regulation may be required, we also asked respondents in 2019 and 2020 how the current state of technology regulations made them feel. This year, despite more respondents reporting increased regulations were needed, overall both IT leaders and employees had positive sentiments about where things currently stand compared to last year.
Some year-over-year trends to note include:
- The leading sentiment among IT leaders in 2020 was hopeful at 43%. Yet employees reported being slightly less hopeful – 26% in 2020 down from 29% in 2019.
- Feeling safe topped this list for employees at 28% in 2020, a slight uptick from 26% in 2019. It was also the second most popular choice for IT leaders in 2020 at 37%.
- Unsurprisingly, the biggest gap between IT leaders and employees was empowerment – in 2020, 32% of IT leaders felt empowered versus just 15% of employees.
- The biggest year-over-year change was around vulnerability. Nearly twice as many employees felt vulnerable in 2019 (24%) compared to 2020 (13% employees and 10% of IT leaders).
Interestingly, IT leaders in the United States seem more hopeful (60%) about the current state of technology regulations compared to their counterparts in the UK (38%), Germany (35%) and Australia (40%).
As governments around the world begin to pick this back up as a key topic of discussion, technology regulations should be on every IT leader's radar. If legislation changes, organizations must be ready to adapt to minimize any potential disruption. Understanding the role that technology plays across your organization and ensuring it is providing the most value is step one.
If you’re interested in learning more, download your copy of Snow’s 2021 IT Priorities Report here.