Tech investor going after Facebook warns Amazon against abusing its power to influence users

  • Roger McNamee: "I look at Amazon and hope that they stay on the right side" by not abusing their power.
  • The longtime tech investor and his group, Center for Humane Technology, say many tech companies are "taking advantage" of users.
  • "If I look at the problem on Facebook, there you have an incentive to promote fear and anger with people," he says.
Roger McNamee: Companies taking advantage of customers' data

Roger McNamee, longtime tech investor and one of Facebook's earliest advisors, warns tech giant Amazon not to abuse its influence over consumers.

"I look at Amazon and hope that they stay on the right side," McNamee told CNBC on "Squawk Alley" on Monday.

McNamee said the advertising business model is "what creates the incentives to addict people. You have to manage the advertising business model really differently. I think [Amazon is] perfectly capable of being on the right side," he said.

McNamee is founding advisor for the Center for Humane Technology and co-founder of Elevation Partners, a private equity firm that invests in intellectual property, media and entertainment companies. He also advised Mark Zuckerberg during the early days of Facebook.

"Amazon is a hard company to get ... inside. I'm not sure of everything they're doing," McNamee said, but he doesn't see an issue with how the company is doing business.

"I express an interest in a product, [then] they show me cool products," he said of the business model. "To me that's completely fine."

Amazon declined to comment to CNBC.

McNamee said the problem lies with companies such as Facebook.

"If I look at the problem on Facebook, there you have an incentive to promote fear and anger with people, to polarize, and there are a lot of social problems that come out of the way Facebook's model has been implemented," McNamee said.

"They're taking advantage of customers with data," said McNamee, who points to the 2016 election and Russian manipulation as examples.

Facebook did not respond to a CNBC request for comment.

In January, Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, announced that the company would change its News Feed to prioritize "meaningful social interactions" over "relevant content." The News Feed is one of the major areas for advertisers on the platform. Users might spend less time on the platform as a result, Zuckerberg said.

"I wish they were doing things that were actually making a difference," McNamee said of Facebook's response to the problem. "The thing that bothers me about this is that they're treating this like a PR problem rather than a substantive problem."

In 2014, McNamee and his colleagues at the Center for Humane Technology, many of whom are former tech insiders and Silicon Valley CEOs, became concerned about Facebook and other large tech companies that were using ad-driven data "to the negative benefit of their customers" and negatively influencing people's lives.

On the center's website, the group writes, "What began as a race to monetize our attention is now eroding the pillars of our society."

The solution is to make users aware of the "threat" so that they have the "opportunity to essentially beat manipulation," McNamee said.

"This is not an us-versus-them kind of situation," McNamee said, speaking of the center's efforts. "We would love to have Facebook and Google and others embrace these ideas. We think they can be amazingly successful without harming their users."

Google declined to comment to CNBC.