First, I would like to point out that I am a huge fan of creating a new internet. A place where we enjoy the peace-of-mind that is keeping your data as personal property. One that doesn’t track everything you do for the profit of big tech companies. But, there is a fine line that should be toed when it comes to the internet of the future and online privacy.
Who is Andrew Yang?
If you’ve never heard of him, Andrew Yang is a candidate in the 2020 presidential primary for the democratic party. His campaign is often intentionally left out of the mainstream media for several reasons. Many of which have to do with the fact that his policies will severely upset the status quo. In addition to promising a Universal Basic Income to be funded by a Value Added Tax (VAT) on goods and services, he also wants to disrupt big tech companies by mandating they recognize your data as personal property. By doing so, he hopes this will allow American people the sole right to decide who gets to profit off their personal information. In turn, it will give you a chance to get a profit slice of the big data pie.
These ideas, coupled with his positive attitude and a seemingly sincere desire to bring prosperity to the average American, led his supporters to label themselves the “YangGang” on social media. His supporters are often very polite, positive in their interactions, and well-intentioned. They truly believe Andrew Yang has the right ideas to lead the United States into the 21st-century. And, for the most part, I agree with them!
But, as is usual with the average voter, both Andrew, and his supporters, are somewhat myopic in their views. In fact, he’s not bringing much of anything new to the table. Let me explain:
Data as Personal Property
On Yang’s website, he points out that the average American generates a massive amount of personal data. This data is extremely valuable to tech companies who collect it because they can sell it off to companies who want to advertise directly to you. Yang asserts that your data is yours, just like any other type of personal property.
These rights include:
- 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
Source- Andrew Yang’s campaign site
First off, this is highly reminiscent of the EU’s most recent GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) law. The penalties for breaking the GDPR law are pretty steep: Up to 20 million Euro or 4% of a company’s worldwide annual revenue, whichever is higher.
Good… but Not Good Enough
While in theory, this is all a good step forward, albeit a very small and mostly useless one. In many ways, it shifts the burden of responsibility onto the consumer. We are the ones who have to pay attention to which companies we give access to. Then we must follow the policy of revoking permission. Finally, we must ensure the company did its job and deleted all of the information they have on us. If they don’t remove our information, the responsibility of reporting them is on us, as well.
Personally, I don’t believe this type of legislation goes far enough to secure data as personal property. Nor does it really give the average person a chance to get in on the profit that big tech makes off of you. It’s a proposal that is basically fluff and difficult to enforce.
Moreover, his proposal doesn’t mention penalties for companies breaking the law. Nor does it mention how you will be able to profit off selling the data. Of course, I do realize many politicians make vague promises without fully hashed out details on what the legislation will involve later.
Perhaps most importantly, Yang’s proposal leaves more unanswered questions than solutions:
- Many people rushing to mindlessly opt-in to sell their data simply for the sake of cashing in.
- How can businesses know they are getting real data from a real person?
- How will the profit distribution be decided? And, how much is it honestly worth to individuals? For instance, if Facebook makes a high figure of $78 million off of 190 million US users, that’s only $0.40 per person.
- Which way does the burden of profit distribution fall? On the big data corporations, the businesses who want to buy it, or the consumer? Each has its own various issues associated.
There’s another answer…
An Entirely New Internet
In the midst of the recent crypto-craze, many new companies sprouted that promised to bring us a new internet. Most of them focused on privacy and anonymity through blockchain and heavy encryption. Most of them also either flopped from lack of adoption or are just sorta limping along at this point.
But, the man who is credited for being the creator of the internet we all know and love/loathe, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has been watching the events unfold since it’s creation. At some point, he decided he had seen enough abuse by the monster he helped create and wants to do better this time around.
I just so happened to be on Twitter one night in September 2018 when I saw a tweet by journalist Katrina Brooker who got an exclusive interview explaining Berners-Lee’s new vision called Solid built in cooperation with his company Inrupt and MIT. Intrigued, I immediately headed over to Solid’s website and began documenting my journey experimenting with the new platform on YouTube.
Not Yet Ready for PrimeTime
It was not an easy venture. I think of myself as a tinkerer in the art of coding and techy-stuff. If I find something that intrigues me, I tinker around until I either create something or get bored. And, as a newb, I found myself fumbling around what I can only imagine is what the bare bones of the first internet looked like. I had no idea what the heck I was doing, so I just clicked away.
If you’d like to see what it looked like back then and giggle at my newb-ness, feel free to watch me fumble around. You can also take a look at my public profile on Solid, which I still have trouble getting to work properly. So, it’s obvious that even to this day, Solid is a work-in-progress. But, how long did it take the current internet to evolve into what it is today? I’m happy to be a part of the ground-level of what I believe will eventually become the new internet.
How Solid Works
Currently, there are no stability or security guarantees on Solid. In fact, I had my name and profile picture up there when I first created my profile, but someone else has deleted them. However, once it really gets going, the idea is pretty darn simple: You get what’s called a “Pod” which is basically your personal digital storage drive. No matter what digital information you store in your pod, it is fully under your sole command. Pod security ensures your data as personal property.
Now, let’s say a company runs an app on Solid, and they want access to some of your personal information. They can request access to this information, which you are able to allow or deny. By doing so, this gives everyone the opportunity to make some companies pay you for the right to use your information.
There is also an auto-fill feature so that if you give permission to an app, it will auto-fill your information and sync it across other apps you have given permission to. So, if you change your address or phone number, you simply change it on your profile card, and the information will update to all of the apps you have given permission to access your profile card.
For identification purposes, we could start with a system similar to Estonia’s e-governance portal. It utilizes a card and card reader connected to your laptop. In the future, we could even link our biometric information (or RFID chips for those who have them) to our profile cards to make logging in and identity verification as simple as waving your iPhone at an Apple Pay terminal.
Legislation Won’t Solve the Problems
We have the bare bones of the new internet and creating it is going to much more effective than whipping the existing big tech companies into legislative compliance. We have already seen what happens when we rely solely on legislation to keep big corporations at bay: they simply hire lobbyists to push their agenda and usurp the will of the American people. Period. We would all have access to free tax software similar to TurboTax that is directly linked to the IRS if it weren’t for their lobbyists keeping us paying to e-file.
We can’t rely solely on politicians to force big tech to recognize our data as personal property. Additionally, without the proper way of diminishing anonymity online, there is no way to guarantee that your personal data will be under your sole control and enable you to profit off of it. If we really want data as personal property, we are going to have to make it so by ourselves by making big tech obsolete.