Zoe Amar: How the big tech shake-up will affect charities

With companies such as Apple introducing new data rules to their systems, charities should be proactively thinking about how this could affect audience reach

Big tech has been dominated by a monopoly of huge companies for some time, but disruption is coming. 

But what do changes in Silicon Valley have to do with me and my charity, you may ask. 

The answer is that these shifts are likely to affect how you fundraise and communicate with supporters, and how you manage risk. 

Some of these changes are global; others, closer to home. 

The UK government is set to introduce the Online Harms Bill, which will create a duty of care for Facebook, Google and other tech companies for the content on their platforms. 

There will also be more scrutiny of mergers and acquisitions of tech companies by the new Digital Markets Unit. 

As the tech landscape begins to shift we need to be aware of how this may affect what charities do, especially as we are even more dependent on these companies than we were before the pandemic. 

How could any of us do our jobs now without the smartphones in our pockets and the laptops on our desks? 

Rhodri Davies, head of policy at the Charities Aid Foundation, thinks some of the changes are positive, because they are driven by the pressure to give people greater control over their data and privacy and to hand more power to consumers. 

But he points out that “these sorts of measures might present challenges for charities in the short term, if they find that platforms on which they have come to rely are altering their terms of service or the kinds of functionality they are able to offer”. 

The forthcoming changes to Apple’s iOS 14 mobile operating system are a case in point. 

As part of updates to its system, Apple has added a feature designed to give people more control of the collection of their data by third parties. 

This means that Apple users will be asked by their device to opt in or out of data collection for each app they use. 

In my view this is a big concern for the sector, because Facebook ads are used by charities to help them recruit supporters, grow fundraising, and tell people about their services. 

Krislyn Tan, digital advertising manager at the digital agency Platypus, says there are actions charities can take to mitigate the impact of this change. 

She recommends digital teams measure how big the gap will be when targeting their audience by using Google Analytics and Facebook reporting to understand how much of their audience is using iOS devices. 

She also suggests that charities “develop strategies for mid-funnel acquisition – like using petition sign-ups or quizzes to grow your email list”.

With more regulation and greater scrutiny of tech companies on the horizon, the iOS 14 update is the first of many such changes that we might see. 

Davies thinks this may lead to greater choice in platforms and tools available – although the downside is that this could lead to a bewildering number of technology options. 

The big tech shake-up shows why digital needs to be on the agenda at board meetings. Davies warns that charities need to “understand these shifting dynamics so that they do not end up being collateral damage in battles between tech companies, or between tech companies and government.” 

He also advises that boards “consider the risks of platform dependency and the steps that can be taken to mitigate it as part of their strategic planning”. 

The good news is that these changes should lead to a more ethical tech sector, which offers greater data privacy and more choice to individuals. 

That’s a positive step for the individuals and communities that charities serve. 

But we also need to have these issues on our radar, so that we can stay ahead of how they could affect our fundraising, communications and operations. 

Zoe Amar is founder of the digital and marketing consultancy Zoe Amar Digital @zoeamar

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