Tech

More Than Half of Voters Back a National Data Privacy Law

About 3 in 5 Democrats and 1 in 2 Republicans said they support a plan to rein in social media companies’ use of algorithms that recommend content based on personal data

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) speaks with reporters at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 16, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Wyden introduced the Mind Your Own Business Act, and a Morning Consult/Politico poll found that 56 percent of voters support federal data privacy legislation. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Fifty-six percent of registered voters said they support federal data privacy legislation, according to new polling from Morning Consult and Politico — findings that come after civil and human rights advocacy groups presented a 24,000-signature petition to Congress urging action on the issue.

What the numbers say

  • Democratic voters are the most enthused bloc about a national data privacy law, as 62 percent said they supported it, compared to 54 percent of Republicans and 50 percent of independents.
  • A data privacy law would make it illegal for social media companies to use algorithms based on personal data that has been collected to determine the content users see. 
  • National data privacy legislation has consistently ranked as an important congressional agenda item for the public, with 79 percent of adults saying in 2019 that lawmakers should prioritize the effort and 83 percent showing support last year as state governments looked to do it themselves.
  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who helped spearhead the petition and introduced national data privacy legislation via the Mind Your Own Business Act, said during a webinar hosted by nonprofit Fight for the Future that Congress must set “strong new rules for how companies can collect, share and use Americans’ personal information.”

Why it matters

The renewed calls for national data privacy legislation come on the heels of increased pressure on Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook and Instagram platforms for their algorithms that use personal data to recommend content to users.

Wyden said those practices have created an “outrage machine” that feeds real-world consequences such as COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. And whistleblowers like former Facebook employee Frances Haugen have said the companies are aware of the consequences of their content recommendation tools.

“How many whistleblowers will it take for the U.S. Congress to rein in Silicon Valley?” Willmary Escoto, U.S. policy analyst at the digital civil rights nonprofit Access Now, said during the webinar.

A Meta spokesperson said in an email that the company is supportive of congressional action and pledged to do more to protect user privacy even without lawmaker intervention.

“For many years, we’ve advocated for Congress to pass federal privacy legislation and hope 2022 will finally be the year our nation’s privacy rules are updated,” the spokesperson said. “Even without federal action, we’ll continue building privacy-protective products and tools that give people more control of their data while providing them with free, personalized services.”

 

The Jan. 8-9, 2022, poll was conducted among a representative sample of 2,000 registered voters, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Morning Consult