Obama-era FCC counsel rips Yang proposal to treat data as personal property


A former counselor to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman under President Obama on Thursday criticized Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang’s proposal to turn data into a property right, warning that such a move would lead to a deluge of lawsuits and create a “huge mess.” 

“It’s impractical and I also think it will only lead to more litigation and claims of ‘this is mine, I must guard it jealously,’” Gigi Sohn, a Benton senior fellow and public advocate, said in an appearance on Hill.TV.

She added that certain online data is “information everybody should have.”

Yang’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to Hill.TV’s request for comment. 

Sohn’s remarks come after Yang outlined a new policy proposal on Monday for how personal data should be collected and used by tech companies for advertising purposes.

This includes a number of rights, such as letting consumers know what data is collected about them, and informing them if data “changes hands.”

Other proposals include the ability to opt out of data collection or sharing, requiring companies to delete all personal data upon request, alerting consumers of data breaches in a “timely manner,” and creating a way to download data in a standardized format.

In his proposal, the former tech entrepreneur lamented about how often data is often used by companies without the knowledge or consent of users, saying “this needs to stop.”

“Data generated by each individual needs to be owned by them, with certain rights conveyed that will allow them to know how it’s used and protect it,” he wrote.

Yang, who is currently polling at 3.5 percent in the RealClearPolitics average of polls, has made headlines for introducing a number of progressive policy proposals, most notably a version of universal basic income that seeks to counteract the threat of automation by providing a monthly $1,000 to every American.

Yang is among the 12 candidates set to participate in the fourth Democratic presidential debate this month.

— Tess Bonn 

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