Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff called for a shift in culture among tech leaders that emphasizes trust, while calling out former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in the process during a panel about consumer trust in the tech industry.

“In this world of connected products, in the fourth industrial revolution, in this multi-stakeholders dialogue… trust has to be your highest value in your company. If it’s not, something bad is going to happen,” said Benioff, who didn’t shy away from the mic during the World Economic Forum’s opening day in Davos, Switzerland.

Benioff pointed to former Uber employee Susan Fowler’s story about the sexism and bullying that was ingrained within the company’s culture. Uber was focused on fast growth, and it compromised the company to the point where users were deleting the app and even affecting Uber’s bottom line, Benioff said.

“And the CEO was setting that tone from the top,” he added, referring to Kalanick.

Earlier segments of the panel focused a lot on Uber, which has faced extensive criticism in the aftermath of Fowler’s story and Kalanick’s exit from the company. The recently appointed CEO of the taxi app didn’t respond directly to Benioff’s comments, except to stress the company’s new direction when it comes to trust, and how the media plays a big role in keeping leaders in the industry in line. But when confronted about the killing spree in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that allegedly involved an Uber driver, Dara Khosrowshahi said it’s important that the company is upfront about the fact that the five-star rating system their app uses is to determine how good of a driver you are, not “whether or not you’re a serial killer or not.”

“Over a period of time, we can have data scientists create a platform that is safer,” Khosrowshahi said.

Author Rachel Botsman, who referred to the killings in her book Who Can You Trust?: How Technology Brought Us Together and Why It Might Drive Us Apart, said that technology is creating conveniences that are “trumping trust.”

“The challenge that we have is that technology wants to automate the process. On the one hand, we as consumers want that convenience and speed, but at the same time, companies have this responsibility to actually build the security and safety and trust into the technology which means it’s using a bit more friction to slow down,” Botsman said.

Oversight and external regulation was also discussed, a topic Benioff had no trouble weighing in on.

“When CEOs don’t take responsibility, someone has to,” he said.

But it’s not that easy, as government institutions and other regulators are having trouble finding the centre of accountability, explained Botsman.

“Trust used to operate in a hierarchical format. Today, it’s much more complicated… when millions, billions of users are essentially the product.”

The forum continues until Jan. 26, and will include panels about the potential for rogue technologies and the long-term impact of tech on our economies.



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