Unskewing the Data Value Chain

A data-propelled tendency for economic concentration and the policy deficits that have fueled the rise of Big Tech companies have brought to the fore a critical realization – market power is coterminous with data power and the entrenched control of Big Tech over the data value chains is at the heart of the problem of economic inequality. The multiple loci of policy efforts to better regulate Big Tech and the gaps and silences that have been observed here, along with the persistent and often successful counter measures of technology corporations, tell us that there are many challenges to decentralizing data value chains and realizing an equitable digital economy. Some positive efforts have undoubtedly been made, but a lot remains to be done. Policy must, therefore, work to target and regulate the data layers that emerge at every regulatory juncture. The policy contestations around data also reflect, more than ever, the need for global data norms to decisively take on the systemic issues that have allowed Big Tech to flourish, including the seminal question of how the data that large corporations own should be governed.

In this context, IT for Change’s project, Unskewing the Data Value Chain, aims to examine policies for the platform model and analyze how data value chains can be directed towards a fair and just economy. As part of the project, we have had scholars part of this network examining this issue from different standpoints – from theoretical discussions to legal frameworks to political economy developments – authoring papers that can be found below.

Metaphors for Data and the Unshackling of Digital Power Asymmetries

Arindrajit Basu and Amber Sinha

In the last few years, data has been likened, aside from the hackneyed comparison to ‘oil’, to any number of tangible entities such as mineral deposits, dividend deposits, and even the Alaskan Permanent Fund. Metaphors as a tool could re-entrench existing power asymmetries or resist them, depending on how they impact and influence our understanding of data. This research attempts to address two key questions: How does a regulatory metaphor protect the human rights and dignity of individuals and communities? Second, how does a regulatory metaphor help unshackle existing power asymmetries in the global political economy of data?

The paper begins with a section explaining why a study of metaphors is so critical to understanding and evaluating regulatory regimes. The authors then unpack the existing state of the global digital-political economy, and then move on to evaluating clusters of metaphors. First, they evaluate metaphors of autonomy, then metaphors of ownership, and finally, end with a section on alternate metaphors of control relevant for private actors and nation-states.

Read the paper here.

Citynetics in the South: A Blueprint for a City Data Commons

Renata Avila and Guy Weress

As procurers of all the civic tech that surrounds us, municipal authorities today find themselves in a unique position — they have become the custodians of personal and aggregate data generated by the world’s largest human concentrations. Rich or poor, large or small, democratic, autocratic, or otherwise, cities — mostly in the Global South — are spending vast sums of public money on ephemeral systems — both software and hardware. Vast troves of data will be generated by the residents of these cities for years to come, and with the present data governance regime quietly privatized, this data will belong to a few, mainly Western companies that own the datasets and infrastructure.

This paper proposes an evolution of this model of foreign data extraction with a situated, cybernetic system resting upon a federated commons for data generated in the city, a City Data Commons, governed by citizens at the local level, the municipal level, and the trans-municipal, diplomatic level of collaboration with neighbor cities. The objective of this paper is to analyze how this new, commons-based governance model for digital infrastructure, which we call Citynetics, could slow and subvert the trend of data extraction, instituting and sustaining a power balance in which the scales tip towards, not away from, citizens.

Read the paper here.

The Histories, Practices and Policies of Community Data Governance in the Global South

Aditya Singh and Divij Joshi

In this paper, the authors argue that there is substantial scope for data governance policies for the Global South to draw from theories and practices informed by the idea that data can be a subject of decentralized, community-centric governance. First, the paper highlights the importance of recognizing communities and groups as agents with interests and rights in various forms of data, and how this challenges many of the assumptions upon which contemporary data policy and globalized information systems are built. Second, it explores how the idea of community data governance is informed by notions of knowledge commons, and the importance of the theoretical framework of commons governance to information and knowledge economies. Third, the paper identifies three distinct theories and practices of community data governance, which have responded to concerns about power, information, and knowledge in the post-colonial context, and identify how these theories and practices can inform data governance policy in the Global South.

Read the paper here.


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