- Tech executives’ top concerns for 2020 are workforce issues, healthcare, and data privacy, according to a recent survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers.
- Their priorities reflect how workers and consumers’ relationships with tech companies are changing, driven in part by new business models — from digital ads to the sharing economy — that many companies have come to rely on.
- Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, and other tech giants have faced growing criticism — both internally and externally — for things like mistreating workers and misusing consumer data.
- As governments crack down with new gig economy and data privacy laws, investigations, and record fines, tech executives are racing to get ahead on shaping the narrative.
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Workforce, healthcare, and data privacy are the issues tech executives say will have the most impact on their businesses, according to a recent survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers. And with the 2020 presidential election looming, more than 70% say they’re “very actively” looking to influence the debate on those key issues.
Their priorities reflect a shift in the relationship between workers, consumers, and businesses that’s happening in part because of the business models that have become so integral to many companies.
Tech and sharing economy companies’ reliance on independent contractors has highlighted disparities in pay and benefits between different classes of workers. In response, several states have passed laws that aim to boost protections for workers — but may also have unintended side effects.
The rise of digital advertising, online platforms and the value of personal information has redefined how consumers interact with companies. Here too, governments have reacted, passing new data privacy laws like Europe’s GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act.
Workers and consumers are increasingly taking matters into their own hands as well, from staging protests to unionizing to speaking out against their former employers.
Managers at these companies have taken notice, as indicated by the issues they hope to shape ahead of the 2020 election.
Here’s why each is so crucial.
How workers are classified could completely upend companies’ business models — and not just for gig companies like Uber or DoorDash.
California’s AB5 law, which makes it significantly harder to classify workers as independent contractors, went into effect on January 1 and affects tens of thousands of gig, freelance, and contract workers across the state.
The law was originally targeted at sharing economy businesses like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash that rely heavily on contractors, but already its impact is being felt in industries from trucking to media. Uber and delivery company Postmates have already sued to block the law.
New York also implemented a minimum wage in 2019 for ride-hailing drivers, which drove up prices for Uber and Lyft rides.
As employees take stronger stands against issues like workplace harassment, hiring bias, and pay discrimination, tech companies are paying much closer attention to how they manage their workforce.
“It impacts their cost, it impacts their ability to attract talent, and it really impacts in many cases how they build their business model,” said Alison Kutler, leader of strategic policy advisers at PwC and a co-author of its policy trends report.
Companies are looking to cut healthcare costs — even if that means taking matters into their own hands.
While healthcare has become a key issue in the presidential race, major legislation is unlikely to happen in the next year. But the tech industry isn’t holding its breath.
“A lot of companies have come together to try to create almost a parallel health system to try to lower costs,” Kutler said.
Amazon recently launched its own health clinics for employees, and along with other tech giants like Google and Microsoft, has ambitions to get into the healthcare business itself.
At the same time, companies are looking to provide employees — or at least certain ones — with extensive health benefits to gain an edge in recruiting.
“Healthcare and health benefits are something that’s important right now as people are looking for jobs and there is definitely competition for talent,” Kutler said.
Companies sense a need to be more transparent about what they’re doing to protect consumers’ privacy — especially at the state level.
Thanks to an endless onslaught of data breaches and privacy stumbles in recent years, consumers have grown concerned about how companies use their personal information.
In response, more governments have been enacting data privacy laws to give consumers better control over what information companies collect on them.
The EU’s GDPR, which went into effect in 2019, has forced companies to spend millions on compliance efforts and already led to massive fines for violations. Companies have also been scrambling to update their privacy policies to comply with the California Consumer Privacy Act, which went into effect on January 1.
As other states follow California’s lead, companies are attempting to get their message out proactively by putting “more people, more resources, and more focus on state level activity than they have previously,” Kutler said.
But it’s not all for show, according to Kutler. She believes companies can gain a business edge by doing things like creating simpler privacy policies and clearly communicating how they’re using consumer data.
“Companies that do that better are going to be successful with regulators, consumers, all the way across the board with various stakeholders,” Kutler said.
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