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Saagar Enjeti: Yang's plan to regulate big tech misses the mark

Opinion by: Saagar Enjeti

Presidential candidate Andrew Yang put out a sweeping new plan to regulate and reform big tech yesterday, in the latest sign that even a Silicon Valley adjacent figure like him is proposing radical changes to the technology industry.

Yang was joined alongside presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard in calling for sweeping changes to redefine the way that social media platforms are legally treated under U.S. law.

Yang's proposals are literally an existential threat to existing social media companies and their business models and he seems to be leading the way on this issue. The proposal shows just how far some of this can go, and as a reluctant advocate for technology, I fear it could have quite a bit of unintended consequences.

Yang calls for an advertising value added tax with the goal of eventually making social media platforms go towards a subscription based service, rethinking the legal regime around social media companies, and passing a digital bill of rights in which people own their data and would get compensation for its use. At the same time, Yang does not embrace Elizabeth Warren's call to break up these companies instead wanting to offer quote "guidance."

Let's take Yang's proposal on a digital vat tax. I completely see where it's coming from, he wants to reduce profit motives from fusing with algorithms to push bad content. But right now at this very moment all of you are watching this show on an open platform and probably discovered it because it was related to content that you were searching for or you like. Now we both get to win, you have an awesome show to watch every day and we can support the work that we do here.

Does that come with a lot of systemic drawbacks? Yeah, and we should address those, but does that mean we want to live in a world where all social media platforms are subscription only? I don't think so. the internet's great promise and gift was openness, the only problem has been that neoliberals sold us all a bill of goods by telling us that openness has zero costs. We can instead recognize and mitigate those costs without destroying the whole system as we know it.

Or let's take the central element of yang's proposal, establishing data as a property right and allowing individuals to be compensated for the use of that data if it is used by a big tech company like Google or Facebook when selling to advertisers. This again is a bit of a problem as tech expert Gigi sohn said on this show recently.

Gigi makes a pretty convincing case there that actual ownership of your data could have a lot of problems, while the core underlying concern is more about data privacy. why not just tackle that instead? I have a lot more I could touch on in this plan but I'll leave it at these 2 examples to make my point.

Yang's plan is one which gives a good diagnosis of the problem but could have sprawling and bad effects on the user experience for a lot of us on the internet. I will say that the one element of the plan which I was very heartened to see was creating a government department to mitigate the effect of social media use and gaming on the developing minds of our children, that is something that concerns me greatly.

I commend him for trying to come up with solutions to what I consider one of the most important policy areas of our current time but think he missed the mark in some pretty important ways that others questioning the role of technology in our daily lives have not.