U.S. tech regulation receives overwhelming public support and bipartisan backing

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
February 02, 2023, 8:24 PM GMT+0

The growing influence of technology in daily life prompts the need for tech-related policy decisions. To gauge public opinion on what these decisions should be, a recent YouGov poll asked Americans about their support for 30 broadly worded national policies entailing greater regulation of the technology industry, covering issue areas that include privacy, algorithms, elections, and antitrust. Support for regulation by Congress in these arenas is widespread — with more Americans in favor than opposed to each of the 30 policies polled. Regulating the tech sector is also remarkably bipartisan: Majorities of both Democrats and Republicans support all but one of the 30 policies — with a ban on facial recognition technology by law enforcement being the exception, backed by fewer than half of Republicans.

Potential congressional policies polled about that receive the highest levels of support are in the areas of privacy and personal data. Americans generally favor regulation that gives them more control over their personal data, including the right to download, amend, and delete it. Companies that collect user data also are expected by Americans to be transparent and secure, with many favoring the requirement of consent for the sale of data and timely notification in cases of a data breach. There is also strong support for measures to regulate the online promotion of potentially harmful activities and to require greater transparency about algorithms.

Privacy and personal data

Four out of five Americans support requiring companies to minimize the amount of personal information they collect from users (80%) and a similar share support providing users with easy-to-understand explanations of their data collection and use practices (81%). Majorities of Americans also believe that users should have the ability to download their personal data collected by companies (74%), and if there are errors or omissions, the ability to make amendments (80%).

More generally, most people think that Americans should have a right to delete their personal data collected online (79%). Companies seeking to sell users' data should be required to seek consent, according to 80% of Americans. In the case of a data breach, 81% believe companies should be required to notify the people affected in a timely manner.

Support for incentivizing preventative privacy measures is somewhat lower than for the aforementioned policies, though a majority are in favor: 59% support providing tax incentives for companies that invest in data privacy and security measures.

Children's privacy is also a large priority: 76% support regulating the collection and use of children's personal data online and 74% are in favor of regulating online advertising targeted at children. Implementing age-verification mechanisms for online content is also popular, receiving support from 71% of Americans.

Algorithms and content moderation

Three-quarters of Americans (73%) support requiring companies to provide sufficient transparency in the algorithms used to recommend content, and even more favor allowing users to opt out of targeted advertising (81%). Regulation of automated accounts, also known as "bots," also is popular — 71% say they're in favor.

There is concern over bias in online algorithms: 70% support requiring companies to regularly conduct audits for algorithmic bias and discrimination. When it comes to the use of algorithms in high-stakes decision-making — such as hiring, mortgage approval, or health care decisions — 59% say they support regulation.

Online content that may be considered harmful — including the promotion of self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, and substance abuse — should also be regulated, according to 72% of Americans. If companies do host illegal content and fail to remove it in a timely manner, 73% favor the government imposing fines on the companies.

Election interference

When it comes to political advertising on social media, 73% favor establishing guidelines for transparency. A similar share — 74% – support measures to prevent foreign interference in elections. The regulation of microtargeting in political advertising receives somewhat lower support: 59% are in favor while 12% are opposed.

Access and antitrust

Policies that expand Americans' access to technology and reduce anti-competitive practices among companies also receive majority support. Two-thirds of Americans (68%) favor expanding broadband internet access to underserved areas across the country. Supported by the same margin — 68% — are stricter penalties on companies that engage in monopolistic practices in the tech industry. “Right to repair” laws, which gives consumers the right to repair their own electronic devices, also receive majority support (68%).

Even the most divisive policies receive plurality support

Even the least supported of the 30 regulatory policies are more likely to be supported by Americans than opposed. For instance, 56% favor regulating virtual currencies, while just 20% oppose doing so. A ban on the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement agencies receives the least support of the policies polled: 45% are in favor, 31% are opposed, and 24% are unsure. The policy Americans are least likely to have a stance on — 34% are unsure — is encouraging the development of open-source and decentralized technology, which receives more support (54%) than opposition (12%).

Democrats' and Republicans' stances on tech policy

As we've found in the past, tech regulation is one policy arena where Democrats and Republicans share a lot of common ground. More than half of members of each party support 29 of the 30 regulations asked about, with the one exception being a ban on facial recognition software by law enforcement (50% of Democrats support vs. 40% of Republicans). The gap in support between Democrats and Republicans is no larger than 13 percentage points for any of the policies asked about, and on many of the policies, members of the two parties are in near-total alignment.

Tech policies that do receive somewhat more support from Democrats than Republicans often involve direct government intervention, such as implementing a national broadband plan to expand internet access (76% of Democrats support vs. 63% of Republicans) or funding programs to train workers affected by automation and technological change (70% vs. 57%). Democrats are also 10 points more likely than Republicans to support requiring companies to regularly audit their algorithms for bias and discrimination (77% vs. 67%).

Many of the proposed policies with more Republican than Democratic support involve privacy, including requiring companies to give users the ability to delete their personal data (89% of Republicans support vs. 77% of Democrats) and to notify them in instances of a data breach (91% vs. 80%). Republicans are also more likely than Democrats to favor implementing age-verification mechanisms for online content (81% vs. 68%).

— Carl Bialik and Linley Sanders contributed to this article

See the results for this YouGov poll

Methodology: This poll was conducted online on January 26 - 30, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%. Each respondent was asked about a randomly-selected sample of 20 of the 30 total policies included.

ChatGPT assisted in the generation of ideas for policies included in this poll.

Image: Adobe Stock (Andrey Popov)