Andrew Yang: Our data should be a property right, new proposal says

"At this point our data is more valuable than oil," Yang said. "If anyone benefits from our data it should be us."

Tom Williams / Contributor
  • 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang published a policy proposal this week calling for personal data to be treated as a property right.
  • Currently, tech companies are able to collect, repackage and sell individuals' data with little oversight.
  • Yang wants individuals to have the option to sell their personal data, or opt out of the process.

Who owns your online data? The answer might be your internet browser, a social media platform or some other sort of tech company. But, in practice, the answer is definitely not you.

Andrew Yang, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, wants to change that. On Tuesday, Yang published a policy proposal calling for personal data to be treated as a property right.

"Our data is ours — or it should be," Yang wrote on Twitter. "At this point our data is more valuable than oil. If anyone benefits from our data it should be us. I would make data a property right that each of us shares."

The current approach to personal data in the U.S., Yang said at the Monetery Tech Summit in May, is essentially a free for all: Companies get our data, sell it, package it, repackage it and resell it.

"We are sort of on the outside looking in," he said.

Most of our data that's being sold is anonymous, but Yang argued that it would be more valuable if it were individualized. Of course, the only way people would agree to sell personal data is if they were compensated.

"To speak for myself, you can have my data if you make my life easier," Yang said. "We all have different data preferences. What we need to do is have the data be ours and then be able to express that preference, and hope that if you were even willing to individualize and personalize it, the value of that data actually shoots up, and you can get a little bit in return."

Yang's proposal calls for:

  • The right to be informed as to what data will be collected, and how it will be used
  • The right to opt out of data collection or sharing
  • The right to be told if a website has data on you, and what that data is
  • The right to be forgotten; to have all data related to you deleted upon request
  • The right to be informed if ownership of your data changes hands
  • The right to be informed of any data breaches including your information in a timely manner
  • The right to download all data in a standardized format to port to another platform

The presidential candidate, who as of early October averaged about 3 percent support in national polls, said the future of data privacy is one of the most questions subjects of our time.

"It starts with acknowledging that the data is ours," Yang said at the Monterey summit. "Right now, that's not even clear…As a country, we have to start saying, first, who owns it? I would argue that we own it."

Decrypt, a cryptocurrency-focused publication, noted that Yang's proposal is similar to the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation, which aims to give individuals more control and transparency over how their data is collected. Decrypt also spoke to Phil Windley, chair of the Sovrin Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to enable self-sovereign identity on the internet, about how data production and collection is a two-way street, a fact which highlights the complexities of the conversation Yang seeks to start.

"Almost no data is generated just by an individual," Windley said. "Rather, data is usually generated by multiple parties as part of a process."

Yang isn't the only candidate pushing for legislation on data privacy.

In June, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, introduced the Social Media Privacy and Consumer Rights Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation calling for increased transparency and controls over how person data is collected and used by companies. Also, in April, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, introduced a plan that would make it easier to hold companies criminally liable when they breach individuals' personal data.

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