In 2006, venture capitalist Roger McNamee thought the future of his venture firm was in the video game industry. That is, until he was approached by a young Harvard dropout who had founded a company called The Facebook.

After hearing the elevator pitch, McNamee was impressed, and knew its founder Mark Zuckerberg had the potential to create something powerful. A little over a decade later, Facebook’s user base is larger than the population of most nations, and McNamee says the company he once fostered could portend the end of democracy as we know it.

“They’re taking a bad situation and making it much worse. [They’re] risking the whole business, risking everyone’s jobs, and risking the health of the people who use the product, democracy, privacy, and big parts of the entrepreneurial economy,” McNamee said during an interview with Boston Public Radio on Monday. “Bad actors can use these tools in ways that were never intended, to do great harm, and there’s nothing you can do about it until it’s too late.”

In McNamee's new book, "Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe," he describes what he says went wrong with the company, and how he came to realize it himself.

According to McNamee, the transition of daily life from offline to online has been a boon for companies like Facebook. The more time a person spends on the social network, the more Facebook learns about a person — based on factors like the amount of time spent on certain pages, the content of their status updates, the posts they like and what they buy — and the more curated an experience they can deliver. But these targeted tools are used for more than showing us a trailer for the newest Marvel movie if we’ve indicated we read comic books. Political consultants have designed an entire science dedicated to manipulating these tools to trigger emotions like fear and anger, and to push a political agenda, all without the average user realizing what’s happening.

"Human behavior is now a commodity that you’ve lost control of. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using the products or not. Everybody’s life is now being managed by these systems,” McNamee said. “They’re gathering all of this [data], not to make products better for you, but to manipulate our lives. Yes, it’s unbelievable, but unfortunately, it’s a fact.”

If there’s a lesson McNamee has learned from all of this, he said, it’s that the government needs to be more heavily involved in regulating companies like Facebook. After witnessing the fallout from the 2016 election and Brexit, he went to Washington D.C. to meet with Sen. Mark Warner in hopes of finding an ally in the government. To McNamee, regulation is the only way to claw back Facebook’s nefarious influence on American democracy — a view he shares with a majority of the American public.

Last fall, Zuckerberg testified in front Congress, where many felt the legislators failed to not just understand how Facebook influences users' perception, but even what the website is used for. Jokes abounded around the Internet about some of the senators' inability to comprehend what Facebook is. But McNamee says there is hope, especially from some of the new, younger members of Congress.

“In Congress, we’ve just elected 40 people whose average age is 40 years old. But these are digital native people,” McNamee said. “On top of that, the California delegation — the Bay Area delegation that represents these guys — are all absolutely on top of this, they’re incredibly brave.”

Additionally, McNamee says it’s not just Facebook that he’s concerned about. If anything, he says Google is much more powerful and entrenched in the everyday lives of millions of people around the globe.

“Facebook is not the only problem. Google, going forward, is a much bigger problem than Facebook,” McNamee said. “Google knows more about us, has more products, more control, and they’re taking it into places that are going to affect our lives much more profoundly, [like] artificial intelligence.”

Yet in the face of all of this, McNamee remains optimistic that the public and the government can work together to rein in Silicon Valley. He says the reception to his book has been overwhelmingly positive, and that now that the general public is becoming more aware of what goes on behind the scenes at major tech companies, there will be more pressure on a new generation of lawmakers to enact the reforms he feels necessary to protect American democracy from the overextended influence of the tech giants, such as blocking the ability for companies to sell information based on financial transactions and geolocation data.

“[People] are passionate, and they’re all willing to change their behavior, [and] they’re willing to make this the issue of 2020 because this is really low hanging fruit,” McNamee said. “We have to stop pretending that these are forces for good.”