Fundamental shifts in technology are changing the way we live, bringing progress to all reaches of life. Yet our ability to harness the opportunities that tech affords – fairly and progressively – hinges on a matter of trust. Trust in technology, yes, but also in national governments and the alliances that underpin the international order.
This year’s TBI Globalism Study, produced as part of a joint project with YouGov and the University of Cambridge called the YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project, draws on polling from 26 countries as diverse as Australia, Great Britain, Kenya, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, Thailand and the United States, to assess the relationship between technology and society – and the implications for policymakers worldwide.
Throughout the survey, we have sought to answer three sets of questions:
1. To what extent do people trust in new and established applications of technology, whether the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in both public and private life, or the internet and its related regulatory ecosystems?
2. How trusting are citizens of their own government when it comes to sharing their personal data and embracing the provision of digital services? Does a crisis such as a pandemic affect the trust between government and citizen?
3. As geopolitical conflict shifts into the technological sphere, how much faith do citizens have in the traditional alliances of the international order? Will they accept cooperation across borders in the name of science? How is trust in global powers holding, and which countries are perceived to be the worst offenders when it comes to disinformation and election interference?
Our report reveals a complex international picture regarding attitudes to technology, and the role and responsibilities of governments around the world. It shows how shortcomings are adversely affecting trust while also analysing some of the following trust-related tech trends:
Almost 60 per cent of people surveyed around the world support the use of AI for selected policing and medical applications. There is significant variation between respondents in developed and emerging markets, however, in terms of accepting the more contentious uses of AI, whether determining welfare payments (32 per cent in developed markets versus 50 per cent in emerging markets) or jail sentences (30 per cent in developed versus 41 per cent in emerging).
Across many countries, respondents have a strong belief that governments should be held responsible for preventing online harms and defending free speech online. On average, 63 per cent say the government has a great or fair amount of responsibility to stop the spread of fake news and hate speech, while 64 per cent believe it has a great or fair amount of responsibility to defend free speech online.
A total of 58 per cent of respondents believe it is acceptable for their personal data to be collected for a Covid passport, contrasted with just 32 per cent who trust government agencies with their personal data. Citizens are more likely to trust in the safe delivery of specific digital government services, particularly related to health or security, than place their trust in government overall.
On the subject of scientific cooperation between nations, 41 per cent of US respondents feel that cooperation between their own country and China should be restricted, signalling a notable public reticence about collaboration between the two biggest global economies. This is despite the pressing need for cross-border solutions and cooperation on the most significant challenges of our age, including climate change and Covid-19.
The majority of respondents from the overall sample acknowledge that cyberattacks, propaganda and disinformation intended to interfere with or influence elections are now tools commonly used by governments, marking a new era of geopolitical conflict.
How big is the tech trust gap?
Overall, our data reveal a nuanced picture in terms of public opinion worldwide, as trust in technology, government and the international order falters. As governments seek to rebuild trust, they must embed technology within a framework of rights and responsibility, with pressing priorities including:
Preserving a free, open and global internet as a pivotal foreign-policy priority among liberal leaders across the globe. This is especially crucial in the context of internet shutdowns, which have taken place in several nations included in our polling.
Ensuring proportionate regulation in areas where the public expects there to be an active role for government, including protecting freedom of speech and preventing online harms. These are both issues on which the public expects government action but poorly handled, they are a significant drag on trust.
Facilitating the expansion of digital government services to personalise the provision of education and deliver preventative health care. Our data, for example, show strong support for personal data being used to slow the spread of Covid-19 and for the issuing of vaccine passports. Governments should celebrate and build on the back of these positive use cases.
Securing international collaboration on science and frontier technology. Despite significant distrust of the country among US respondents, China continues to dominate several big technology sectors, including clean tech. For those countries looking to innovate their way to net zero and away from fossil fuels – while seeking to meet their COP26 pledges – a coherent and coordinated strategy on collaboration with China is needed. This must come alongside strategic investments to counter the areas where China is hoping to develop scientific self-sufficiency, such as biotech, blockchain, neuroscience and robotics.
The technology revolution is radically reshaping society. Governments around the globe are at an inflection point: do they decide to embrace the enabling power of technology or instead seek to curb its progress? To rebuild trust, our data show that progressive policymakers and leaders must demonstrate the promise and potential of any new wave of innovation – whether in health, education, transport or work – to individuals and their communities.
Our report, “The Open Internet on the Brink: A Model to Save Its Future” includes more information on the cooperation challenges posed by the geopolitics of the internet.
“Defending the Free and Open Internet in an Age of Authoritarianism” explores how to stop the erosion of internet freedoms across the globe.
“A Safer Net for All: The Opportunity of Cybersecurity” details how to improve digital security, including for low- to middle-income countries.
China’s role as a tech powerhouse is highlighted in “China’s Tech Landscape: A Primer.”
Research published in this new report by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) is based on an annual survey run jointly with YouGov and researchers at the University of Cambridge.
The TBI Globalism Study is an annual study of changing international attitudes towards technology and globalisation in 26 countries including Great Britain, the United States, Australia, South Africa, Kenya, Russia, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.
This report represents independent use of the data from the Globalism Project and does not reflect analysis or interpretation by YouGov. All analysis in this report has been produced by TBI, supported by recommendations that aim to facilitate progressive policymaking.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample sizes were: France = 1,085; Germany = 1,009; Sweden = 1,038; Denmark = 1,170; Spain = 1,035; Italy = 1,023; Greece = 1,045; Hungary = 1,012; Poland = 1,035; Britain = 1,062; Australia = 1,076; United States = 1,004; Canada = 1,127; Brazil = 1,117; Mexico = 1,092; Turkey = 1,041; Egypt* = 1,009; Saudi Arabia* = 1,005; Russia = 1,228; India* = 1,212; Japan = 1,155; Indonesia* = 1,473; Thailand* = 1,004; Kenya* = 1,017; Nigeria* = 1,057; South Africa = 1,159. Fieldwork was undertaken between 4 August and 21 September 2021. The surveys were carried out online.
For those markets labelled *, the figures have been weighted and are representative of the online adult population aged 18+. For other markets, the figures have been weighted and are representative of the adult population aged 18+. There is a margin of error associated with different sample sizes and different distributions of answers. For a 1,000 sample, it is +/- 3% at the 95% confidence level. When reporting results for subsamples, the margin of error will be higher than for the total sample, such as up to +/- 6% for a 300 sub-sample.
Read all papers in The TBI Globalism Study:
The TBI Globalism Study: How Big Is the Tech Trust Gap? (current page)