Data privacy has become a controversial issue in the U.S., especially as politicians call for more regulation on Big Tech companies.
Yet, most proposed legislation has been stalled in Congress and according to Andrew Yang, the former candidate for both the U.S. presidency and New York City mayoral race, much of the stalemate is due to aging politicians.
“We have a gerontocracy in this country where the president is turning 80," Yang said during an interview with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer. "This year, our congressional leaders are in their 70s and 80s. And that in some ways is fine. But in other ways, it's really holding us back on issues like technology, which I think are becoming more and more pivotal.”
In 2018, Christopher Wylie, a former research director Cambridge Analytica, revealed that the firm collected personal data belonging to millions of Meta users without their consent. And just last year, a massive data leak exposed 700 million LinkedIn users’ information.
“Big Tech now controls many aspects of our lives, and they went from being everyone's heroes to everyone's villains pretty quickly,” Yang said. “One of the cases I'm championing is that we should own our own data, which right now is getting sold and resold for over $200 billion a year."
'Our government is asleep at the switch'
A Pew Research poll found that 44% of Americans think major technology companies should be regulated more than they are now. A separate poll from Ipsos indicated that just 34% of Americans think companies do a good job at protecting their personal user information.
Tech companies not only pose a threat to Americans’ data privacy, but to their mental health as well.
According to recent testimony delivered by NYU psychologist Jonathan Haidt to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, “teenage mental health has deteriorated rapidly since 2010, coinciding with the advent of social media." He also noted that teens who use their phones 4-5 hours a day are "significantly more likely to be depressed than teens who use their phones an hour or less per day.”
"Our government is asleep at the switch on this set of issues," Yang said. "It's threatening to tear our democracy apart. It's damaging and undermining the mental health of our children. As usual, our government is years or decades behind the curve."
TikTok, in particular, has faced heavy scrutiny as of late due to its popularity among teenagers and young adults. The tech company is known for promoting "challenges" in which one user posts a video and encourages others to mimic it. Several parents have recently sued the company after their children died while participating in the "Blackout challenge", which reportedly encourages individuals to choke themselves until they pass out.
On top of tech's influence on mental health, Yang said, is how it's made it "impossible to function" in terms of presenting facts that everyone agrees on, which has allowed disinformation and misinformation campaigns to succeed as well as they have.
"The average senator is 64," Yang said. "They don't understand technology. Not to cast dispersions at people who are above a certain age, but the truth is that if you didn't use some of these technologies, you don't understand just how foundational their impacts are."
Dylan Croll is a reporter and researcher at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @CrollonPatrol.